What does Covid-19 mean for the holiday market season?
The end of the year is creeping closer and, for some in the NWT, that means one thing: holiday craft fairs.
Rooms full of artists, craftspeople, and local businesses are an annual tradition for many northerners. Craft fairs have blossomed in the territory over the past decade – but this winter will be trickier.
With concern about new Covid-19 cases in recent days and many public health measures already in place, fairs are trying to adapt. In some cases, they simply can’t.
The Yellowknife United Church, for one, has decided to call off this year’s Christmas bazaar.
“We aren’t even trying, because we couldn’t even limit it to the 25 people in the room for vendors, let alone any customers who wanted to come in,” Marg Henderson, church administrator, told Cabin Radio.
For five years, the church has hosted two Christmas markets a year to raise funds. It rents around 30 tables to vendors.
“It’s usually very crowded, it’s difficult to move. That’s part of the reason we just can’t look at having them this year,” Henderson said. “I think we would have to get an exemption from public health in order to run them, and I think that it would be impossible.”
While Henderson said the church supports territorial pandemic precautions, she expressed disappointment at cancelling the bazaar, saying it would mean less money for the facility and less opportunity for vendors to make important holiday sales.
‘We’re trying to stay positive’
In Inuvik, the Great Northern Arts Festival is trying to determine how – and if – it will move forward with its annual Christmas art, craft, and gift fair.
The fair typically takes place at the end of November in the town’s Midnight Sun Complex. There are about 70 vendors each year, making it one of the NWT’s bigger craft fairs.
Mary Ann Villeneuve, the festival chair, said the event is an invaluable opportunity for many in the region not only to showcase their work, but to generate additional income.
“That is another boost to their little local economy,” Villeneuve said. “We all know living up here in the North is expensive, and when you go farther north into the High Arctic, the cost of living is even higher. So, every little bit of income really does help.”
The festival does not currently have concrete plans for the Christmas craft fair but is looking at different avenues. The board has put out a call on Facebook for suggestions from the community.
Options could include splitting the event over two weekends, moving the event to a smaller venue, or spreading vendors throughout the town at different locations to restrict gathering sizes.
No matter what, the craft fair will happen in some way, shape, or form, Villeneuve promised.
“I know the community really wants this event to happen,” Villeneuve said. “We’ve had a few calls, a few emails. We’re trying to stay positive about this and make this happen.
“The one thing that would shut us is if the government shuts us down – everything, not just us.”
A glimmer of hope
There is hope for craft fairs elsewhere in the territory.
Dene Nahjo, a non-profit collective supporting Indigenous artists and communities, is hosting an Indigenous arts market online as a virtual alternative to its annual winter market in Yellowknife.
The Yellowknife Guild of Arts and Crafts, meanwhile, has devised a plan to host its yearly “Sunday Sales” in person. They’ll run each Sunday in November and the first three Sundays in December.
Those interested in attending need to sign up for a 30-minute time slot, as no more than 15 customers are allowed in the guild building at a time. Masks will be mandatory.
“We’re kind-of excited,” said Wendy Stephenson, vice-president of the guild.
“It’s different, and we’ll see how it works. We’ve never done anything like this before.”
Stephenson wished luck to everyone else waging the battle of holiday craft fair logistics.
“I think everyone’s trying to be creative about this,” she said.
“We’ll see how this Christmas goes – because it’s a big deal, all these Christmas sales.”