• Last modified 3146 days ago (Sept. 8, 2010)


First-year vendor stands out

Staff writer

A middle-aged man approached a new booth at the Florence Labor Day parade, a dousing of invisible ink slightly visible against his blue shirt He asked vendor Ernie Tafoya how many bottles of invisible ink he had and then bought 12 bottles at 25 cents apiece.

“It’s payback time,” the man said.

Tafoya and his wife, Cindy, of Emporia, were appealing to childish mischief all weekend for their first Labor Day celebration in Florence. Along with invisible ink they also sold shock pens and laser guns. They were the only booth at the festival that specifically appealed to children.

“Which kid doesn’t have a quarter or 50 cents in his pocket, dying to buy something,” Ernie said. “Nothing costs a quarter or 50 cents anymore.”

The Tafoyas displayed an eclectic selection of products at their booth. They had a vast array of mini figurines and statues depicting everything from foxes, coyotes, and wolves in a southwestern style to a statue of a Chihuahua. Dream catchers and other southwestern Native American items were also available.

To the left of these items was a case of swords and knives. They began selling knives after adults complained that they’re demographic was being ignored. To the left of the knives were wooden roses for sale.

“A little quirky is I guess what you’d want to call us,” Ernie said.

Adding to the peculiar booth, the Tafoya’s arrived in Florence in a truck advertising their mainstay — balloons. They didn’t bring any balloons because they knew a clown would be handing out balloons to children for at least one day of the festival.

“We had a bunch of people ask for them,” Ernie said. “We know from experience that no one wants to buy balloons when someone else is giving them away.”

Ernie opened Balloons by Ernie in 1989 in Emporia. His initial appeal was the ability to stretch balloons and then place a teddy bear inside of the balloon. The idea expanded to include balloons filled with money for graduations and even balloons with diamond rings for marriage proposals. Much of his business with balloons comes from decorating for banquets and parties.

Six years into his business, balloons stopped selling as well. To supplement his income, he started selling novelty items.

On weekends when they don’t have much to do, the Tafoyas search for local festivals. They expect to return to Florence for future Labor Days. They said the festival was supportive and 90 percent of their customers were kids.

They also enjoy meeting new people at festivals and sometimes giving them a hard time.

“One little girl was walking by here and I said, ‘hey, no walking,’” Ernie said. “She started running and I said, ‘no running either.’”

Last modified Sept. 8, 2010