Fort McMurray artists, businesses encouraged to move sales online

With more consumers online shopping during the pandemic, Fort McMurray’s art and business groups are looking to get local products selling online. 

The Arts Council Wood Buffalo recently began accepting applications from artists for a new website called Marketplace. It’s a website dedicated to selling local artists’ work.

In order to buy art from locals in Fort McMurray, “you kind of really have to look for it,” said Liana Wheeldon, executive director of the arts council. 

“Taking it to a virtual version has been sparked by the pandemic.”

Wheeldon said there were a few places in Fort McMurray for artists to display their work, but it’s become even more difficult because COVID-19 has restricted the number of visitors. 

The website will be live in mid-September and there are already a dozen applicants looking to get in on the project.

The arts council isn’t the only organisation looking to move people online. The Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce is starting a project that would help local businesses create websites and sell their products online, in addition to the brick and mortar stores.

Nick Sanders, interim executive director of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, said the program would be for businesses with fewer than 10 employees or restaurants with fewer than 25. 

The website will start accepting submissions in September. 

“Most businesses don’t currently have the dollars, nor the ability to go out and design their own website, and do all that rigamarole,” said Sanders. 

The websites would be offered to businesses at a significantly reduced cost. 

“Consumers at this point in time are demanding that convenience. They want to be able to shop online,” said Natasha Hartson, director of entrepreneurship and innovation with the Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation (WBEDC). The WBEDC is working with the chamber on the project. 

Hartson said it will also help solidify a business’s credibility and create a 24/7 operation without any additional labour costs. 

Mike Allen is closing the doors of Campbell’s Music after running it for almost 27 years. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Coun. Mike Allen, owner of Campbell’s Music, is in the midst of closing down the store he has operated for almost 27 years. 

He said running Fort McMurray’s only music store became difficult after the 2016 fire. 

This year’s flood and pandemic were the final straw. 

During the pandemic, Allen wasn’t able to get in enough product to keep business going. Big sellers, like acoustic guitars, weren’t being restocked because the factories that make them were shut down.  

Allen had tried selling his products online over the last few years, but he said it brought a lot of challenges. 

His inventory is limited, and other, larger companies with warehouses could supply items faster than he could. 

He added that it’s expensive to ship things out of Fort McMurray. For example, sending a guitar to Montreal would cost over $120 in shipping fees, making it impossible to offer free shipping on products. 

“We have to adjust to the current market,” said Allen. 

“Unfortunately, I was not as successful as I would have liked to have been to compete with that.”

Allen said the idea to have local businesses and artists selling their products online could be really helpful, especially if the product is niche. 

But, he adds, the burden is also on locals to look to stores in town before shopping online.                 

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