I Made It! and Handmade Arcade provide alternative to big box retailers with online holiday markets | Arts + Entertainment | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

I Made It! and Handmade Arcade provide alternative to big box retailers with online holiday markets

click to enlarge Etna Print Circus at Handmade Arcade - HANDMADE ARCADE
Handmade Arcade
Etna Print Circus at Handmade Arcade
Shopping online has become almost a necessity as the pandemic extends into the holiday season, with sites like Amazon and other big names cashing in on people avoiding malls and shops. It's especially unfortunate for small businesses, makers, and artists who depend on revenue from markets where shoppers would usually go to buy unique, handcrafted gifts for family and friends.

But two local markets, I Made It! and Handmade Arcade, have turned disaster into an opportunity for sellers looking to bring their products to the holiday shopping crowds.

On Sat., Nov. 28, aka Small Business Saturday, the traveling indie-crafts marketplace I Made It! Market and the large-scale Handmade Arcade will debut their virtual holiday markets, where shoppers from Pittsburgh and around the nation can browse and purchase goods from hundreds of makers specializing in clothing, jewelry, toys, and more.


The I Made It! Market Shop Holiday Handmade event runs from Sat., Nov. 28 to Sun., Nov. 29, while the Handmade Arcade Virtual Marketplace (formerly DIGITAL DIY) will spread out over nine days, from Sat., Nov. 28 to Sun., Dec. 6.

While the move online was necessary for both markets, which have grown and thrived for years with in-person events, the change has also enabled them to expand on their missions of supporting the maker community right when it's needed the most.

“Everyone lost so much this year,” says Handmade Arcade executive director Tricia Brancolini-Foley, referring to markets and pop-up shops around the country being canceled. “So this was really our response to recreating the event as best we could online and then take it and reboot it as much as we want.”
click to enlarge Darrin Jamal of Social Living at Handmade Arcade - PHOTO: JOEY KENNEDY
Photo: Joey Kennedy
Darrin Jamal of Social Living at Handmade Arcade
Before the pandemic, she says Handmade Arcade had no intention of changing its format. Typically, Handmade Arcade invites people to not only shop but participate in tons of hands-on activities during various in-person events throughout the year

“I had absolutely never ever, once thought about, or even considered building something like this,” she says of the Virtual Marketplace.


Even so, as the pandemic showed no signs of letting up, she and her team knew they had to act. She says they were fortunate to secure funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to build a custom website showcasing 137 makers from Southwestern Pennsylvania and beyond.

Going online has not only provided an emergency outlet for makers to sell, but has opened up new opportunities for two of the city's biggest markets. For its two-day Shop Holiday Handmade event, I Made It! partnered with two other markets in Ohio (Cleveland Bazaar and Crafty Mart in Akron) in order to attract more business to the 150-plus artists being showcased.

“Shopping local and supporting our artist communities is more important this year than ever before after a summer of canceled events,” says the event Facebook page. “With over 35 combined years of promoting these talented makers, we can't wait to bring them to you in a different way this holiday season.”
I Made It! Market - PHOTO: I MADE IT! MARKET
Photo: I Made It! Market
I Made It! Market
To prepare shoppers, I Made It! will release a 200-page catalog to look over before the live event weekend, and will present meet-the-maker profiles, videos, and more.

For Handmade, going virtual also provided an opportunity to educate makers on how to build an engaging online presence and better sell items online. The Virtual Marketplace will cap off a 10-week course through which participating makers learned about the key points of e-commerce, website development, and marketing, as well as how to best ship items.

“We're being very deliberate about helping our makers plan and repackage themselves in an online world,” says Brancolini-Foley. “It doesn't come easily to some of these artists. … It's a lot of work.”


All makers in the Virtual Marketplace run and populate their own individual pages, which includes a profile, videos, and images of products. Clicking on products will take shoppers directly to the maker's separate, independently run website or Etsy page, where they can then make purchases.

More than anything, Brancolini-Foley says they still wanted to bring the essence of Handmade Arcade to the online event.

“We've really done everything we can think of to make our in-person, immersive, creative vibe and recreate it in this virtual marketplace,” she says.

This effort includes inviting shoppers to participate in hands-on activities at home, all of which are designed and presented by local arts groups like Pittsburgh Glass Center and Assemble. Guests can order kits or just use common materials in their own homes. There will also be pre-recorded demonstrations, live Instagram events, and maker panels.
click to enlarge Val Snyder of Simon's Granddaughter at Handmade Arcade - PHOTO: JOEY KENNEDY
Photo: Joey Kennedy
Val Snyder of Simon's Granddaughter at Handmade Arcade
Brancolini-Foley believes that, even when in-person events return, keeping an online option makes markets more accessible to customers who may be unable to attend events or just would rather not fight the holiday crowds. She adds that they built their Virtual Marketplace website to be “evergreen” so they can reboot it for future events themed around big shopping occasions like Valentine's Day.

She hopes that virtual marketplaces will divert holiday spending away from huge retailers, which have generated massive profits in the wake of the pandemic, and into the pockets of small, independent businesses, artists, and makers.

“We've spent more than enough money this year on big box stores and websites,” says Brancolini-Foley.

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