PNE marketplace was an education

If you see a guy selling art and poetry in there this year, at least take the time to tell him his display looks nice, he’ll like that.

Any time you have made your annual pilgrimage to the PNE, you have no doubt made your way into the Marketplace building. This fair within a fair is a busy, bustling, noisy collection of amazing products that you cannot buy on store shelves. But if you can buy them locally, this is your opportunity to pay more for them than you would at home.

My artist partner and I looked at an application to put a booth in the PNE Marketplace a few years ago. The initial layout was $2,500, but with an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 people coming by our booth each day and buying art and poetry, we would make that back the first day.

We secured our spot months ahead and started writing and painting and packaging our product. We bought display racks, carpet and lighting and made signs and posters. What would we do with all the money we were going to make?

We found out that someone had to be at the booth at 10 a.m. and we could not close down until 10 p.m. Wow, we could sell a lot in 12 hours. We set up, and were ready at 10 a.m. opening day. And yes, over 50,000 walked by our booth and some even stopped and told us how nice our work was, but nobody bought art or poetry that day.

We decided it was because they were loaded down with Sham-wows, mops, irons, jewelry, toys, plastic shoes and water buffalo hats. But the next few days were the same. We changed our marketing, we got right in people’s faces as they walked by, but now, only one of us was going in each day and we were bringing our lunch instead of paying $15 for fish and chips.

The Shammy guy was directly across from us. By day three, I knew his spiel by heart and was going to ask for a job. Did you know that their one-time only, 2 for 1 offer actually goes on every hour, every day for 17 days?

The guy beside us was selling gold chains by the inch. He told everyone it was “a unique combination of jewellers bronze and gold that will never lose its finish.” I did look after his booth if he went to the bathroom and my partner worked on commission for him the last long week-end. But nobody bought art and poetry.

I walked around and wrote a poem about everything that was on display and left a copy with each vendor. The next day Mike McCardell from Global came by and did a piece with me, reading the poem on his show. Surely the next day would be busy at our booth. It was; a lot of people stopped by to say they had seen me on TV, asked what Mike was really like and walked away without buying any art or poetry.

We had a great visible location and many people stopped by just to ask where the washrooms were.  Over the next few months, people that had picked up our cards contacted us for commission work so we barely made back our money. I bought a gold chain and some Sham-wows, so I was actually in the hole.

If you see a guy selling art and poetry in there this year, at least take the time to tell him his display looks nice, he’ll like that. At least that’s what McGregor says.

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