Graphic by Esra Rakab, Production Coordinator

Hamilton Artists Inc. and Ushi Mart have created platforms for customers to safely buy from small businesses

With heightened uncertainty, evolving public health guidelines and many people heading online to shop for gifts, many winter markets have closed this holiday season. However, a few have stayed open by pivoting to the physically distanced shopping experiences. Quirky AF | art fair hosted by Hamilton Artists Inc. and Winter Holiday Market by Ushi Mart are two local makers’ markets that have found ways to keep their doors open despite the ongoing pandemic.


Quirky AF is a curated art, craft and design market that showcases handmade pieces by local artists. The pop-up market went from Nov. 17 to 30 and featured jewelry, zines, clothing, accessories and many other items by uniquely talented and avant-garde makers from Hamilton and the surrounding areas.

The market first launched last year at Hamilton Artists Inc. during a James Street North art crawl. It garnered a lot of traffic and was an important weekend for many local vendors. However, this year in light of the pandemic, the Inc. cancelled all of its in-person programming.

Instead, the Inc. decided to host the market virtually through their website. The high engagement and support from the community for their other online programming motivated them to bring back Quirky AF. The market was also met with great support and response from the community.

The primary reason for opening the market was to continue supporting local artists who had lost many opportunities to showcase their work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of large fairs and events such as Supercrawl.

The primary reason for opening the market was to continue supporting local artists who had lost many opportunities to showcase their work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of large fairs and events such as Supercrawl.

“The main goal is to create excitement around the market and each of the vendors, and really try to emphasize that . . . these are artists that have been really impacted by [the COVID-19 pandemic],” said Jasmine Mander, the communications and outreach coordinator at Hamilton Artist Inc.

Supporting local businesses during this difficult time is critical as the arts are often one of the industries that are affected first and the most heavily during an economic crisis, such as the current pandemic

Overall, Mander says the pandemic has presented both advantages and challenges. It has made the market, gallery and other programming at the Inc. more accessible as a heavier online focus has pushed them to improve their accessibility features such as closed captioning at speaker events and adding alternative text for pictures on their social media. However, the formation of real connections are limited online. 

“It will be interesting for me when we go back to [in-person events] to compare this year to see how we can maybe merge [online and in-person programming]” said Mander. “I think [the COVID-19 pandemic] has made a lot of people rethink the way they have been doing things for a very long time.”

“I think [the COVID-19 pandemic] has made a lot of people rethink the way they have been doing things for a very long time,” Mander said.

Another market similarly impacted by the current pandemic is the Winter Holiday Market organized by Ushi Mart, a shop located at The Cotton Factory. Ushi Mart is run by a collective of artists and clothiers who create one-of-a-kind, sustainable and upcycled clothing, textiles and embroidery.

Winter Holiday Market is open until Dec. 28, and it’s the first year running. The market features around 35 vendors and all the proceeds from the market admission ticket will go toward Wesley Urban Ministries, a non-profit organization that offers support to those who are homeless or living in poverty in the Hamilton, Halton and Brantford regions.

 

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The collective behind Ushi Mart decided to open a winter market this year due to the cancellation of many markets, which is especially important for local and small businesses during the holidays. Ashley Bullock, the founder and chief executive officer at Ushi Mart, says she wanted to create something safe with the space she has to promote local businesses. 

The Winter Holiday Market is organized for visits by appointment only, with a maximum of five visitors per hour. Visitors can also book an hour of personal shopping experience. Depending on the evolving situation and status of COVID-19 cases in Hamilton, they are also prepared to take their market online.

So far, the response to the market has been positive.

“For the businesses, [the Winter Holiday Market] is a way that we can group together, promote as a whole and really support each other. For people who are shopping and who are looking for items, it’s a great way to [explore] a variety of businesses, so later on down the road, you’ll know in the city that you’re living who you can support rather than going to larger corporate stores,” said Bullock.

“For the businesses, [the Winter Holiday Market] is a way that we can group together, promote as a whole and really support each other,” said Bullock.

Despite hurdles placed by the current pandemic, local artisans and businesses have come together to support each other and survive the pandemic. While our favourite fall and winter markets have been postponed until next year, it is fortunate that a few have found ways to remain open and support the community and local businesses.

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