On many spring and summer weekends, shoppers make the Leslieville Flea a destination, flocking to a cheerful array of tents on a sunny day to see what artisans and small businesses have to offer.
For many, rummaging through antiques, collectibles, and hand-crafted goods while indulging in artisanal food is the highlight of the weekend.
Now, however, such markets are all done over Zoom and online sites. The pandemic has changed marketplace for small sellers. Several groups and entrepreneurs in the Greater Toronto Area are helping them cultivate community and connect with customers online.
Watch: Local markets move online to help artists
Organizers of the Leslieville Flea, which has been in business since 2013, are now hosting events on Instagram.
“We wanted to provide a platform or place to promote local artists and their vintage collectors, and also to promote a sustainable lifestyle of reusing and repurposing items,” co-founder Brigid Elmy said in a telephone interview.
For small businesses to collaborate with the Leslieville Flea, they must complete a $65 application to become vendors. If it’s approved, they get to take over the flea market’s Instagram stories for two hours and get a listing on their vendors page.
“In-person is definitely the better choice. Virtual markets are fantastic, but most people would agree that they would like to meet in person with the collectors before buying,” Elmy said.
Others are also pitching in with their own efforts to help local artists, such as the newly formed Toronto Virtual Market.
New online venues popping up
The Toronto Virtual Market provides an online community for local artisans and east-end businesses to be discovered on social media. It launched last November.
Before that, one of the founders of the market, Steve Thompson, was a stay-at-home dad and hockey referee. He said he simply wanted to help out.
“The point of this is to help others,” he said by phone. “If I lead with the intention of helping others, then things will fall in place.”
As the Toronto Virtual Market was created during the pandemic, Thompson discussed the importance of protecting people’s safety by shopping online.
“Virtual markets are just a way to make sure business owners still have a platform to introduce themselves to the community while being safe,” he said.