How to behave at outdoor markets & craft shows
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Everyone loves to poke around a good outdoor market in fine weather - that's practically what Toronto is all about in summer! Or at least it was, before the COVID lockdowns and distancing mandates came into effect. It used to be that you couldn't cross the street without running into a farmer's market, roadside stand or full-fledged street festival. Kensington Market has a wonderful Sunday alleyway market in full effect as of October 2021. Then there are also the many indoor craft shows and markets, ranging from the cavernous (like the One of a Kind Craft Show and Sale and the quarterly Gem Expo) to the petite (think church basement flea markets) that are once again starting to take place all over the city, no matter what the weather is doing - often offering incentives like food trucks, live entertainment and hot drinks to lure shoppers towards the artisanal vendors who make the unique handmade products we love to buy.
The thing is though...what is the protocol for these markets? It's not the same as walking into a Foodland and filling up your cart...or is it?! How should you act, what are the do's and don'ts? We've had plenty of experience vending at Toronto's finest markets, and that is plenty long enough to school you in the etiquette of market shopping!
7 Rules for Shopping at Artisan Markets in Toronto
Read on for helpful tips that will make your next trip to the farmer's market, art fair or craft show a resounding success. Oh, and of course we have to stipulate: these are Toronto rules. If you're buying rugs at an outdoor stall in Marrakesh, please feel free to consult their particular guidelines!
2. Ditch the poker face. It's always unnerving when someone comes up to your booth and refuses to make eye contact or crack a smile, but simply stares expressionlessly at your products while picking them up, touching them and handling them. We get it: you're trying not to show too much interest because you're afraid of being "sold" on something or feeling like you have to buy something because you have been friendly with the vendor. Maybe you're trying not to laugh at products you aren't attracted to. But if the vendor asks you basic questions like "Do you collect these?" or "Have you been to the market before?" or "Nice day, isn't it?" it's kind of impolite to remain totally silent! It's okay to smile briefly and say you'll be back. We know you won't, but that's fine, that's how it goes.
3. Be careful of your kids. Many times I have had to defend a display from roving children - and I make child-friendly products, so we actually encourage children to look at them, smell them, and use the testers, but there are limits. If you aren't watching your kids and they're wrecking a carefully crafted display, the vendor is going to have to pick up the pieces. And not all of them love children as much as I do :)
4. Ask questions. If you aren't sure of something - where or how something was made, what's in it, whether it's certified organic, what makes it different from something you already have or have heard of - please ask. Crafters and artisans have a story to tell and we love to tell it. Don't be shy to ask questions, and don't make assumptions about a product. For example, people often assume that SaltZ&Co uses a synthetic fragrance in our Sweet Caroline Massage Bars because they smell so sweet, but actually, that's a blend of essential oils and 100% natural extracts. We aren't above carefully sourced, phthalate-free synthetic fragrances, but we'll tell ya!
5. Bring your credit and debit cards, but we do take cash. Many vendors in Toronto didn't used to take debit, because the initial fee for the unit is higher and the service is a fairly recent development, but most vendors now have a tap unit. Don't automatically assume you can use your debit card like you would at every bricks and mortar store, but the vast majority do take credit. A market doesn't mean you have to resort to a primitive barter system - all vendors accept cold, hard cash (preferably small bills!) If you bring fifties and hundreds, be prepared to visit more than one vendor to get change.
6. Don't attempt to bargain someone down. If your request is good natured and realistic, bargaining is usually acceptable - but when the vendor says it's not, don't press the issue. Most vendors price their products fairly for the work and expenses involved. Before I owned a business making small batch bath and skin care products, I didn't fully appreciate what was involved in making products, bringing them to market, and all the steps in between. The barriers can be enormous and the effort involved, astronomical. The price may seem high to you, but it might have taken hours to sew, paint, craft and package that item by hand, so don't expect to drive a hard bargain without upsetting or insulting vendors. If you're on a tight budget, take a look around the market first to get an idea of pricing and narrow down what you might want to purchase, rather than assuming you can haggle bargain basement deals for quality handmade goods.
7. Promote your favourite vendors. Every single vendor loves publicity - it's so difficult to get, without breaking the bank. Consider posting a selfie with the maker to your social media channels, tweeting that you just bought the most incredible hand-churned ice cream, or taking a close-up of that beautiful soap and Instagramming the hell out of it! Don't be surprised if you make a maker friend for life.
Now go forth and shop that market in confidence!