How It Started
In December 2020, the Flin Flon Arts Council initiated a pilot project called the “Uptown Emporium”. The focus was to create a platform for crafters and artisans to market their products. Today the Uptown Emporium is an e-commerce site, physical storefront, photography Centre, and a drop shipping warehouse.
Back to the beginning, the 40th Annual Christmas Arts and Craft Sale, a Flin Flon Arts Council fundraiser, could not provide a ‘business as usual’ event; taking the challenge to a success by creating a virtual space for local hand-crafted products. With seed money from Community Futures Greenstone and Flin Flon Credit Union, a space was rented on Flin Flon’s Main Street in November 2020.
It quickly became apparent that there was both a need and demand for this type of activity in the north. The Uptown Emporium began to facilitate services to local vendors on a scheduled basis while expanding their online presence. Website developers were contracted to restructure the website making it both consumer and vendor friendly.
During the second round of pandemic closures (January 2021), time was taken to re-develop the physical space, creating a welcoming and sophisticated environment. This was achieved by hiring consultants through funds from both Creative Manitoba and the Asper Foundation. Vendors from further afield in Northern Manitoba connected with the Uptown Emporium to join the online store and it became very apparent that this project was a great opportunity to support northern artisans in their economic development. In addition, the project also offered consumers, local and abroad, an avenue to discover new products by talented makers throughout the north.
In a conversation with a Look North Advisor, we were encouraged to connect with an initiative called “The Real Northern Experience”. It was at this meeting that the Uptown Emporium connected with potential partners who had an understanding of the project's concept for northern development.
Just this past May, the Uptown Emporium team was approached by the Northern Association of Community Councils (NACC) to discuss a potential partnership with The Flin Flon Arts Council. The NACC not only understood the project’s vision, they provided the foundation to propel it forward as they too had a project compromised by the pandemic called the “Northern Market Trail Project”. Through the shared vision, partnering of the two initiatives, additional staff were hired and expansion of the initiative followed.
From the beginning it was obvious that the ambitions of The Northern Association of Community Councils, The Uptown Emporium and The Flin Flon Arts Council for the north aligned. As an example: In July, through support from the NACC The Uptown Emporium team moved forward on finding Artisan Champions in locations throughout Northern Manitoba. The role of these Champions is to discover and support local artisans towards their personal development through access to the tools provided through various platforms. To date, four Artisan Champions located across Northern Manitoba support this vision and liaise on behalf of the project. The Uptown Emporium is actively looking for similar partnerships with other organizations such as the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce, the CEDF, Look North, North Forge, North Forge North and University College of the North to develop opportunities in the north to further support the economic development in the north through the cultural sector.
Starting with 11 vendors just nine months ago, the Uptown Emporium now promotes and vends the works of over 50 artisans and growing from Northern Manitoba! Products for sale have grown from 300 items in December 2020 to over 600 items presently online and 250+ items waiting to be processed prior to being uploaded to the website. It is worth noting that as items sell, new items are added to the stock so that the quantity has not only remained consistent but is steadily increasing as more vendors join. The Uptown Emporium has increased sales from approximately 50 sales in the month of December 2020 to on average to now approximately 200 items monthly.