C/O Dan Zen

The cancellation of Hamilton’s signature festival is negatively impacting businesses on and off James Street North

Nothing brings Hamilton together like Supercrawl. The September festival on James Street North features numerous performances, fashion shows, art installations, food trucks and more. It is an opportunity for Hamilton to show off its artists and entrepreneurs. Unfortunately due to COVID-19, Supercrawl’s organizers announced in June that the 2020 event would be cancelled.

When Hamilton’s steel industry collapsed in 2008, Hamilton’s artists and entrepreneurs were credited with revamping Hamilton’s image and economy. As empty buildings became galleries, restaurants, studios and shops, art crawls emerged. Supercrawl, derived from these monthly art crawls, arrived as a celebration of this revival.

Since its inception in 2009, Supercrawl has grown from a one-day event attended by a few thousand people to a weekend-long celebration that draws about 250,000 people annually. The multi-arts festival is a major tourism event in Ontario that has an economic impact of over $2,000,000.

Every year, businesses on James Street North prepare themselves for this influx of customers by extending hours, increasing stock and putting on sales. Business owners often gain new customers during Supercrawl and see some of their highest sales of the year.

Priya Mohan is the owner of Sari Knot Sari, a sustainable and fair trade clothing line. As her store is located on James Street North, she has been directly impacted by the art crawl and Supercrawl cancellations.

Supercrawl, art crawl . . .  used to be able to pay for your rent at least for the whole month. You would make enough money during art crawl to pay for all of your utilities and rent. [I]t gives you the opportunity to earn more money, which would allow you to build your business or do whatever else . . .  That’s gone now. So you just have to hope that the money comes in in dribs and drabs and that you can pay your rent and pay your utilities and pay your staff and still have enough money left over to increase your stock so that you have more money coming in because if you don’t have stock you can’t make money,” explained Mohan.

“Supercrawl, art crawl . . .  used to be able to pay for your rent at least for the whole month. You would make enough money during art crawl to pay for all of your utilities and rent. [I]t gives you the opportunity to earn more money, which would allow you to build your business or do whatever else,” said Mohan.

Since Mohan started Sari Knot Sari in 2018, her business has participated in Supercrawl’s fashion shows and hosted a sidewalk sale in the tent outside their store. They also provide free space in their Supercrawl tent to local artisans and sustainable businesses as a way of exposing the community to these sustainable enterprises.

“[T]hat’s gone now. Like there really is no hub for people who are artistic to have a free place to just showcase their goods and spread the joy of their artistic endeavors. There really isn’t anything,” Mohan said.

Local artists and businesses without brick-and-mortar locations typically benefit from Supercrawl the most. Artists can apply to have an installation at Supercrawl and those that are chosen are actively promoted by the festival, facilitating widespread exposure for these artists. Similarly, small businesses can apply to be one of Supercrawl’s approximately 100 vendors. For those who are not able to apply or are not selected, the festival provides free, first-come, first-serve space for them to set up. Without these typical Supercrawl activities, these artists and vendors will not get the exposure they may need to survive the financial impact of the pandemic.

While Supercrawl organizers are planning alternate events, they haven’t yet announced an event that will help businesses that rely on Supercrawl. However, the fact that a few vendors and artists will be featured at Supercrawl’s first physically-distant concert series sparks hope that the festival organizers will continue to create events that include and feature Hamilton business owners.

In the meantime, Hamiltonians continue to pull together to support local businesses. One example of this is Hamilton Supports Local, a website and business directory that sisters and Hamilton teachers Lindsay Hucal and Laura Varga started this year after their grandmother had to close her Port Dover shop due to COVID-19.

Having shopped locally for years, Hucal wanted to make it easier for Hamilton shoppers to find local goods and support small businesses. She believes that the only positive outcome of COVID-19 on businesses is that more people are thinking locally.

“I think there are more people being conscientious of where they buy things. A lot of our businesses are fair trade too . . .  and people are taking more of an understanding and awareness of where their products are coming from. So I think that because of COVID-19, because of a lot of things that are happening in the [United States] and free trade and all of these things that are happening, we want to support our Canadian economy. [I]t’s taking a deficit from businesses being closed down for so long. I think that people are starting to think globally and shop locally and try and support Hamilton and Canada as a whole,” said Hucal.

“So I think that because of COVID-19, because of a lot of things that are happening in the [United States] and free trade and all of these things that are happening, we want to support our Canadian economy,” said Hucal.

Hopefully, as Hamiltonians continue to support Hamilton businesses, it will mitigate the negative effects of the cancellation of Supercrawl and other events that support local businesses.

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