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The Uptown Emporium Project

The Uptown Emporium is a physical store located in Flin Flon, Manitoba with an e-commerce platform.  It was established in November, 2020 and is owned and operated by the Flin Flon Arts Council, a registered charity incorporated in Manitoba just over forty years ago.  The Arts Council’s operations are overseen by a volunteer board of directors.  The Council’s Cultural Coordinator directs and controls the work of the Uptown Emporium.

The Arts Council’s purpose in launching the Uptown Emporium project is to provide another way of supporting art in the north and northern artists by marketing and selling hand-crafted products made in the north, supporting the economic development of participating artisans and communities,  and by extension enhancing the region’s tourism sector.  The project is designed to provide a platform for makers to sell their products in person through the physical store and on a virtual market platform.  Artisans can choose to undertake the tasks involved in offering their creations virtually, and they will be provided with the training and tools needed for successful digital marketing and sales.  Alternatively, they can choose to concentrate on their creations, and have the Uptown Emporium do the work to market their projects virtually.  This higher level of support is reflected in a higher commission fee.   The Uptown Emporium is creating public awareness of the talents of northern artisans locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. 

Starting with 11 vendors just over a year ago, the Uptown Emporium now promotes and sells the works of over 100 artisans (and growing) from Northern Manitoba, expanding into Saskatchewan.  The project now has five core employees, as well as part time staff including a bookkeeper, a Northern Champion Director and five Northern Champions who liaise directly with artisans in their geographic region.

Providing customer service, liaising on behalf of vendors and their clients, inventory management, access to tools on and offline, professional photography services, marketing, small business development and training, and national and international shipping opportunities are just a few of the services provided at the Uptown Emporium.    The UE Centre, based in Flin Flon, Manitoba is also used to facilitate the promotion of local and regional artists, cultural activities and knowledge sharing, pop up shops and tourism opportunities such as Experiential tours.  Please visit our website at www.uptownemporium54.com 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PROJECT

Uptown Emporium:  Objectives

The Flin Flon Area will shortly be impacted by the planned downsizing of its major employer’s local mining operations.  Realities such as this are not unusual in northern communities.   What is equally common is the number of makers living in smaller communities that have not been able to tap into the market allowing the sale of their handmade products to supplement their household income.  Following a main industry closure, families leave, communities become fragile and unhealthy.   This project capitalizes upon the plentiful artistic and cultural talents of people in northern Canada, providing employment and self employment income both locally and regionally, contributing to the revitalization of Flin Flon’s and the surrounding region’s commercial district.

This social enterprise/economic development initiative has the following objectives:

1. Provide a physical space located in Flin Flon which can warehouse and sell locally and northern Manitoba made products as a proof of concept for similar such depots in northern communities. This objective has been realized and recently was up scaled from a 475 square foot venue to a 2100 square foot venue.  This larger location is being used as an economic hub for the project by providing a space for artisans to meet, warehouse and sell their products as well as a larger venue for consumers to see and purchase products made by local and regional makers.

2. Provide a centralized location to develop and support an e-commerce platform The Uptown Emporium uses a professionally recognized platform (Shopify) for online marketing and shipping throughout North America and Europe.

3. Continue to employ a professional team to support the administration and management of the project.   The Uptown Emporium team consists of a Project Manager, Marketing Director, Store Front Attendant, Inventory Manager and Technical Director.  The objective of the team is to support the use and understanding of the online sales technology to this new business community, in addition to supporting industry standard marketing strategies, tools, equipment and techniques required for online sales.

4. Create a directory of active makers, artisans, hobbyists and crafters in Northern Manitoba.  The Uptown Emporium offers these makers the opportunity to expand their business through both the storefront and the online marketplace, while respecting their individual needs and intents.  Some artisans may not be interested in participating in the e-commerce technology, however it would be an objective of this project to document and support their business.   They may prefer to sell their products at a physical depot.  It is already apparent from our experience that many vendors who formerly sold their products from their homes, are delighted to have their products featured in a dedicated store and online.

5. Educate northern artisans on the value of their products and to sell and promote the artisans’ products at fair-market value.  We have developed a consistent methodology to assist artisans in pricing their products.

6. Educate and support northern artisans in all communities, Indigenous and Non-Indigenous on e-commerce platforms and technology and to provide supports as required to bring northern Manitoban products to market and develop the market in Saskatchewan.

7. To offer a centralized location that will provide support for northern regional depots.   This will be operated by part time Northern Champions.   These Champions  and depots provide an important entrepreneurial role by offering use of professional equipment, and provision of training in new technology employed by the Uptown Emporium.   In this way, important new skills will be provided to people in Manitoba’s northern communities.

8. To liaise and communicate northern Indigenous and non-Indigenous economic issues, concerns, strategies and accomplishments with potential partners including vendors, funding partners and consumers.

9. To provide an additional source of employment and self-employment income to Northerners through the art sector.   Historically, much of  Northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan consistently struggles with economic challenges such as mine closures, limited economic opportunity and challenges related to living in a remote location.

10. To introduce consumers provincially, nationally and internationally to northern talent.  It is expected to increase awareness of northern  talents and enhance tourism in the region.

11. To develop a long term sustainability strategy through growing the business as recommended by professional consultants and continued identification of sustainability opportunities as the project up scales.  We will continue to seek short and long term funding from additional sources.


 

SUMMARY

It is common knowledge that people and communities in the north have distinct economic, social and environmental challenges.  The social enterprise project desires to provide an opportunity for individuals to enhance their livelihoods through sales of products that they create in their own communities.   This not only enhances the Maker’s household income but develops pride and expertise in their field of interest.   Even a modest sum of $200/month earned through the sale of their products could make the difference between remaining in a community or abandoning it in the hopes of supporting themselves in a larger centre which would have its own unique cost of living challenges with limited support systems available.  In short it is another way for the Flin Flon Arts Council to support are in the north and northern artists.