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AN INSIDERS’ VIEW OF THE HOLIDAY CRAFT MARKET SEASON

In an era of online shopping and overnight shipping, the appeal of a handmade or locally sourced gift extends beyond the purchase, or even the exchange in which its bestowed upon its recipient; to shop small from a local maker is to foster a connection with the creative minds of our communities, to affirm the industry of imagination, and to encourage the entrepreneurial spirits of the local economy.

 

Unlike braving the harried halls of the local shopping mall or frantic online sale, to attend a market as a patron, be it of the homemade or homegrown variety, is to deliberately choose a slower tempo of shopping experience. To peruse an agora of wares, purchasing accompanied by the soundtrack of neighbourly greetings, reunions between old friends, and occasionally to a genuine live music performance.



Jayme Burns at a recent craft show at Centre 200. (Photo: Krista Montelpare)


Jayme Burns of Glace Bay, NS (jaymeburns.com), sells Cape Breton Christmas cards, watercolour paintings, and prints. “My work is a reflection of my love for Cape Breton, the humour on my cards is hyper-local to the area, and the scenes I paint are of Cape Breton,” says Burns of her art.

 

According to Burns, “market season begins around the first part of October, and it's the ramp up to the holiday shopping season. What used to be a few hectic weeks from Black Friday to Christmas Eve has really overtaken the lion’s share of the fall.”

 

While the cusp of autumn and the change in seasons delineates a transition into the holiday rush, for some artisans and craftspeople, attending markets as a vendor is part of their year-long business model. Such is the case for Cortney Nock of Baddeck, NS (craftedbycortney.ca), who handmakes polymer clay jewellery.

 

Though she sells at booths year-round, Nock observes, like Burns, that the busy market season is fully underway by November. “It runs for six to seven weekends, ending just before Christmas,” she explains.

 

In 2023, Nock attended 39 market days, including nine days over five different markets this holiday season. Though she notes she was discerning and did not have a table as often as she potentially might have, had she wanted. “This gave me the opportunity to truly focus on building stock and having a wide variety of styles and options for each event,” she explains.

 

Cortney Nock (left) at a recent craft fair. (Photo: Krista Montelpare)


For many makers, markets are a supplementary activity on top of regular stockists, including local shops like La Quaintrelle, Fae Curio, Lillian Company, and Best of Cape Breton Gift Shop. For others, selling at craft markets can be more accurately described as a side business or even a monetized hobby without further ambition to sell elsewhere.

 

Market season is a gauntlet for Burns who works full-time in addition to running Jayme Burns Creative Studio as a small business. It’s a secondary stream of income, which is helpful during this expensive time of year, but it’s also significant time spent creating and coordinating, as well as late nights to paint, design, package, and plan. “It's hectic, exhausting, joyous, and at the end of the season my 'creative cup' and wallet are a little fuller,” she says, adding it’s at least a solid month of work without days off.

 

While the prospect of earning some extra cash for the work they create might be appealing, Nock warns that there’s more to hosting a booth than simply laying out your wares and waiting for the money to roll in.

 

“I think it’s very important to engage with people. I want my customers to know who they’re supporting,” says Nock who uses the face-to-face interactions as an opportunity for some storytelling about her process, often surprising people with the details she reveals, including that she custom mixes the colours for each piece, ensuring that her designs are truly unique to her brand.

 

She emphasizes that she views markets as her opportunity to allow shoppers to peek behind the curtain at the person and producer.

 

Offering practical advice for potential vendors, Burns recommends “be prepared that not every show is going to be a money maker. It all depends on who walks through the door,” advises Burns to anyone interested in securing a booth to sell their own products. She adds that it’s helpful to bring a buddy, adequate snacks, and to opt for comfortable footwear, acknowledging that the customer engagement aspect can take more of a physical toll on the body than someone might expect.

 

Most importantly, try not to get discouraged. Burns encourages new vendors that “it takes a while to find the right show for you and where your customer base likes to shop. But eventually, you'll find your place, and your sales will reflect that.”

 

Planning to hit up some markets for gifts, both this season and the next? Burns’ favourites include “The Big One” hosted by Home Crafters of Cape Breton, usually at Centre 200; Port of Sydney; and the Louisbourg Market, which she says nourishes her creatively. “It's my hometown, the last of the season, and feels like a warm hug to end the year on. It's always an uplifting show where I get to see a lot of familiar faces and it's a really cozy vibe,” says Burns referring to the aesthetic  something unlikely found in a box store.

 

Nock agrees that each market or event offers its own special appeal, often tailored to certain communities or aesthetics, though she admits that holiday markets, in general, are a favourite of hers. “It's always nice to see people out and about, getting into the holiday spirit.”

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