By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
We all know the importance of small businesses to our economy, but what about the smallest of small? In the season of farmers markets and pop up shops, all of a sudden, we see the talent hiding in plain sight.
The sewing, baking, crafting, painting, pottery, woodworking and anything you can imagine, are all on display. Locally made and locally sold, it’s the epitome of shopping local.
It feels like there’s a growing groundswell in favour of this type of hyperlocal shopping, driven by a combination of factors. In the past, buying things was expensive, so people made them out of financial necessity. For example, before growing affluence, cheap international labour and fast fashion, many Canadians made their own clothes because they couldn’t really afford to buy them. But it’s now been close to half a century of cheap and easily available retail clothing and handmade has come to signify quality and individuality more than financial need.
The same story holds true for many of the handmade items we purchase and I think part of the resurgence has to do with an increasing preference for quality over quantity. We are inundated with cheap products and many people look around their homes and see lots of stuff. Instead of buying more, buying quality products that offer a connection to the maker is an effective cure for retail overload. You know your product was ethically made by someone who knew their customers would be friends and neighbours — that mindset puts a much greater emphasis on quality, safety and community.
Another factor is how much easier it now is for artisans to get their products to customers. In the past, they would have to attend events in person, try to get a retail location to carry their products or invest heavily in advertising. Today, those avenues are still open, but online retailing has allowed artisans to sell directly to customers across the country and around the world in a professional way, even if they aren’t that tech savvy. As well, an enthusiastic and devoted marketer can build up an international following for free, something that really wasn’t possible a decade or two ago.
When many of us go away, we seek out gift shops and artisans studios, why don’t we do this at home? Prince Edward Island has turned theirs into a major tourist attraction, with visitors touring and buying from independent shops and studios around the island. There’s no reason why we can’t do that here, especially as more and more come into existence. This past week, I was able to visit four shops in Neepawa and Minnedosa that sold items made in Manitoba, most from within a 50 km radius. Each artisan, each shop, adds to the critical mass, making it more worthwhile for visitors from further afield to make the trek out. If PEI has managed to take artisans spread out across a mostly rural area and turn it into an internationally recognized tourist destination, we should be able to build upon what we have to turn it into at least a regional attraction.
There’s something supremely satisfying about buying from the person who made the product, either directly or at stores and co-ops selling the work of local people. Buying from these venues has become increasingly trendy in urban areas and it’s spreading to rural communities too. I hope to see this trend continue to gain steam, it can only be good for our region and the people who live here. The more local residents can make use of their skills and talents to support their families and themselves, the more we can offer to make ourselves a destination, regardless of where the customer is from.