The cottage industries benefit from a clientele confined to their homes, disposable income


David Dunkley, a fine milliner, in his Toronto store on October 4. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, much of Dunkley’s business vanished, but started to pick up again as events pick up.

Fred Lum / The Globe and Mail

After 52 years repairing clocks, Peter Schafer says it’s the busiest he’s ever been.

Before the pandemic, he could expect to receive five calls a day. Now Mr Schafer says he is almost 20. As one of the last two clock repairers in Ottawa, he said, he has benefited from an unexpected wave of spending related to the pandemic.

“When the pandemic started my phone stopped ringing and I told my wife, it’s finally time to hang up the skates,” said Schafer, who took over the Schafer clock repair center. to his father. “Suddenly the calls started coming from everywhere.”

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Despite closures, event cancellations and gallery closings, some artisans say they benefit from Canadians’ increased time spent at home and accumulated disposable income – especially those catering to a richer clientele, who has benefited disproportionately over the past year and a half.

While many businesses have suffered, the pandemic has sparked interest in spending in niche areas such as fine arts, catering and custom work: after dropping last year to its lowest level since 2014, the gross domestic product of the visual and applied arts sector rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, reaching $ 2.88 million in the second quarter of this year.

The number of people working in the sector also rebounded, reaching nearly 145,000 in the second quarter after hitting a low of around 125,000 the previous year.

“People who do high-end work, especially those that have a decorative function, have seen a slight increase as people have started to invest more resources in their living spaces,” said Janna Hiemstra, Director executive of Craft Ontario, a non-profit organization. support organization for artists.

David Dunkley, a professional milliner based in Toronto, said it was thanks to a loyal customer base that he was able to keep his shop open last year. Typically, Mr. Dunkley makes a living creating bespoke headgear for weddings, funerals and special occasions. When the pandemic started, the demand stopped.

“Last year was a difficult year to be a hatter. Without the support of our communities I think none of us would still be here, ”said Mr Dunkley, who studied with the Queen Mother’s former milliner.

When the pandemic began, Mr Dunkley focused on casual hats, bespoke masks and projects for the film and television industry. He said he was one of two fine milliners who remained in Toronto, but he thinks there will always be clients for businesses in small niches: “People still wear hats, and I can’t see never change that, ”he said.

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Sara Spafford-Ricci, senior conservator at Fraser / Spafford Ricci Art & Archival Conservation Inc., said her business has also seen an increase in orders from private owners who, after months at home, decided to seek out works. art. catering services.

The Surrey-based art curatorial firm, which previously kept several Group of Seven paintings, remained open as gallery, museum and government workers were sent home. Ms. Spafford-Ricci said that at times they were among the only conservators to undertake projects in Canada.

“Over time, I realized that we were recession-proof, in part because of the nature of our customers,” Ms. Spafford-Ricci said. “Some people think that the conservation of art is essential. Even though it’s a flourish, they have some extra money to do it.

But not all artisans were so lucky, she says. The cancellation of art exhibitions and in-person lectures reduced the income of many artists. She estimates that some visual artists have seen their incomes drop by 80 percent in the past year and a half.

Supply chain issues presented an additional challenge. Julia Reimer, owner of Firebrand Glass Studio in Black Diamond, Alta., Said the price of the glass she uses in her commissioned pieces has doubled since the start of the pandemic.

“Some of our major suppliers have gone out of business, and it’s a real worry when you end up with one supplier for the main material you use. We have worked very hard not to increase our prices, ”Ms. Reimer said.

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The footwear industry has also seen a shift in consumer spending. “People were working from home and not wearing their office shoes,” said Jim McFarland, former president of the Shoe Service Institute of America, an industry organization also serving Canada.

For shoemaking companies in downtown areas of cities, he said, office workers make up the majority of customers. As a result, McFarland estimates that 1,500 paver manufacturing companies in the United States and Canada have disappeared since the start of the pandemic, up from around 5,000 in 2019.

But, he said, the industry is seeing a resurgence of interest from millennials in their late 20s and early 30s as some reject the fast-paced fashion in favor of more durable, longer-lasting shoes. environmentally friendly – a promising turning point for an industry that has been consolidating itself for decades, said McFarland, who also runs his own shoemaking business in Florida.

However, for some artisans, business only intensifies. Niche experience, less competition and increased demand left clock repairer Mr. Schafer confident about his prospects. But, he says for him it’s not about the income, anyway – it’s about loving what he does.

“As long as my eyes are good, my ears are good and my fingers are good, I will continue to do this until I can’t anymore,” Schafer said.

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