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Artisan markets indicative of long term trend

'Buy local' movement hits its stride in rural Ontario

By Louis Pin, St. Thomas Times-Journal

 

Farmer’s Daughter Artisan Market opened in Glencoe in May, the project of Erin Waller-Burnett and Maura Dobie. It’s where they sell their own products and the products of roughly 30 other rural artisans.

 

Three months ago, Bilal Khalife opened Galleria 916 in the Elgin Mall, a place where local craftspeople jointly promote their products and take turns running the store.

Within a few months Sparta, a tiny village southeast of St. Thomas, will have two new artisan markets, the second opening Nov. 18. Joseph Sawicki, the owner of that store — named gathered — wants to give local artists a place to sell their work.

Artisan markets have not been this popular in southwest Ontario in decades, not with globalization monopolizing every stage of retail. But more and more people are leaving big box stores and seeking out local products, especially those in rural Ontario.

“It’s the real deal,” Sawicki said. “Here it’s local, Elgin County people. The art’s really good, and we’ve got a place where we’re going to represent it.”

Sawicki creates pottery, a practice he’s moved from Locke Street — a very local-friendly neighbourhood in Hamilton — to St. Thomas, and most recently to Sparta.

His work is on display at gathered along with the work of eight other local artists and craftspeople.

Sawicki’s store is down the street from Village Collect, another artisan market in Sparta that opened in early September.

“There’s no such thing as a starving artist any more,” Sawicki said. “It’s a new world where people are starting to push away the [big box] thing now . . . they want something that’s real, not made in China. And with the internet you can get your thing out to the world.”

“I’ve been really searching for somewhere local,” said Paul Brunelle, one of the featured artists at gathered. “Joseph has a great concept here . . . I’m really looking forward to it.”

There are different models of artisan stores, but the principal remains the same: made local, for local people.

Some places like Khalife’s Galleria 916 are run collectively. Artisans have their products in-store and help run the counter as well.

“I was surprised to learn how many creative hands are there and how many people are really creating products that are amazing . . . but they cannot feature [them],” Khalife said. “That’s where the idea came from. It’s to combine all those creative minds in one place.

“This is a business model that is a success,” Khalife added. “It has low overhead, it gives opportunities . . . and it highlights local product.”

The stores themselves are the result of an “exponentially growing” trend, according to Dr. Oana Branzei, business professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario.

Branzei says the movement includes other aspects too, from farmer markets to craft breweries.

“It is a movement,” she said. “It localizes the economy . . . it allows community members to spend, and therefore invest, in community members’ businesses.”

That’s the draw for rural Ontario, Branzei added. The more people leave rural Ontario, the more buying local then becomes a necessity.

And while the up-front costs of buying local products might be slightly more, there are significant long-term benefits — especially in places like Sparta or Glencoe.

“This movement is really driven by self-preservation,” Branzei said. “It’s not just the artisan markets; it’s the microbreweries. It’s everything that you can pin to the land.

“This movement is driven by the dual motive to double down on your community, to create a product, if you can, that is consumed locally by neighbours, that is co-produced by neighbours . . . in a way that makes the community better off, not just the individual or the producer,” she added.

Branzei’s words were echoed by Sawicki. He’ll open his new store Nov. 18, during which Sparta will have a collective open house event.

For the little town, any addition like Sawicki’s is welcomed.

“You wouldn’t believe the help,” he said. “The electrician . . . he’s making all the wiring in this place safe. The people in the county, helping me, and the people at the small business centre. Everybody is right beside me. It’s incredible.”

They’re beside him for a reason. Investing in Sawicki, Khalife and other storefronts like theirs is effectively like investing in rural Ontario itself.

 

@STTJ_Pin

lpin@postmedia.com