‘All I do is eat, sleep, and crochet,’ Angela remarks with a laugh while I check out her arrangement of handcrafted market wares – all neatly organized in front of her on a wooden vendor table. I crack a smile (imagining her catchy statement dubbed onto some club track or other) and focus on what’s on display. There’s a canvas basket of fist-sized crocheted kittens – some violet, others yellow, all cute. Another that’s filled with crocheted chicks – in various shades of pastel. Next to the baskets there’s a tidy white shelving unit neatly arranged with more crocheted creatures of all sorts: whales in pinks and purples; sharks in blues and greys; octopi in pastel hues. My eyes fix on a blue crocheted whale. I pick it up and give it a squish. So soft and smooshy – a perfect gift idea for my nine-year-old daughter, who’s all about the softest and smooshiest stuffies. 

Not that I’m on a deliberate hunt for stuffies, mind you. Instead, I’m here – at the St Jacobs Farmers’ Market on this blustery winter morning in early February – to suss out a very cool Market program: its Young Entrepreneur Pop-Up initiative.* Developed by visionary Market Manager Megan Malcolmson for young folks (aged twelve to twenty-four) looking to dip a toe into the vendor experience, the program aims to remove as many barriers to entry and to offer as much support as possible for vendor novices looking to start something new. 

‘We got the Pop-Up initiative running in 2021, when we noticed how many people had started side hustles during the pandemic, ’ Megan tells me. ‘At the time everything felt so unpredictable – and for the first time in years, we found ourselves needing to recruit vendors versus having a healthy waiting list of potential vendors.The program was designed to give individuals with aspiring business ideas an opportunity to test their product, and it provided us – and continues to do so – with a crop of energized new vendors.’ And how does it work, exactly? ‘Every Saturday morning,’ Megan tells me, ‘the Market provides vendor space for a rotating number of young entrepreneurs to sell their wares – making the whole process as easy as possible for them.’ Indeed, the Pop-Up initiative is all about accessibility and ease of use. The Market takes care of insurance, for instance. It also provides vendor tables and looks after any set-up and tear-down processes at the beginning and end of each Market Saturday. The support is comprehensive and real. 

What’s more, during the Market’s indoor months Megan ensures that the young entrepreneurs’ booths are given prime space in the most central location – smack dab in the middle of the Main Market Building. Not only does this mean that these young vendors get as much traffic as possible, but they are also essentially enveloped within the Market grounds – surrounded by more permanent vendors who are readily available to help, advise, mentor. 

On this particular Saturday morning, four Pop-Up vendors are blissfully installed – and successfully selling. There’s (the aforementioned) twenty-two-year-old Angela Cortes’ ‘So Craftful’, with its crocheted stuffies. And nineteen-year-old Amanda Kleinikkink’s ‘AK Cards’, which sells hand-made scrapbooked cards for almost every special occasion. There’s also sixteen-year-old Teaira Garcia’s ‘BitsAndBobs’, featuring resin and laser acrylic jewelry. And twenty-two-year-old Melissa De Sa’s ‘melissas.handmades’, which offers a line of nickel-free polymer clay jewelry and more. 

I move from Angela’s table (my mind still transfixed by that blue whale) to Melissa’s strikingly minimalist booth, meticulously laid out with a nude wooden display ‘case’ featuring colourful polymer clay earrings of all sorts. I ask about her trajectory from aspiring entrepreneur to Pop-Up vendor. ‘I actually worked my first booth as a one-time vendor at a Winter Market here back in 2021,’ she tells me – referring to one (of many) of the Market’s inventive special events. ‘From there’, she continues, ‘I applied to the Pop-Up program.’ And how’s it been going? ‘This is my fifteenth Saturday,’ she tells me with a laugh. ‘I’m a huge fan – of the program, and of Megan.’ When I ask Melissa what she likes best about being a Pop-Up vendor, she answers straightaway: ‘The people – and especially my new and returning customers.’ Customers that, as we chat, are always around – some just to say hi, others to check out the goods and, of course, those who leave with a handmade treasure. 

While Melissa now qualifies as an OG Pop-Up vendor, others are just beginning their journey at the Market. For Amanda, for instance, this is just her second Market Saturday. And yet she’s clearly emerging as a pro – chatting with Market visitors, inviting them to take a closer look at some of her wonderful handmade cards. I ask her what she thinks of the program so far. ‘I think the whole thing is fantastic,’ she says, without hesitation. ‘The application process was super easy, and Megan and the Market team are so flexible with scheduling.’ The best part about the whole thing, she says, is that it encourages young people ‘to leave their comfort zone and gain important experience.’ 

I visit the youngest of the Pop-Up vendors next. Sixteen-year-old Teaira’s ‘BitsAndBobs’ jewelry business is emerging as a going concern. A past recipient of a Guelph Startup Company grant and an experienced Etsy vendor, Teaira appreciates the Market as another means of reaching a wider audience with her resin and laser acrylic jewelry. She tells me that she chose this market because a lot of people she knew pointed her towards it. She’s been selling here for a year now, and this is her eighth Saturday Market. Like the other young entrepreneurs, Teaira is a huge fan of the Pop-Up initiative initiative. 

Perhaps the coolest component of the program is the opportunity it provides for Pop- Up vendors to advance to become permanent Market vendors. Case in point – twenty four- year-old Liv Kelly of ‘Liv Lush’, a business that specializes in mulberry silk scrunchies and dog scruffies (adorable scrunchies for your dog). Her trajectory at the Market is undoubtedly unique. ‘While I was recovering from surgery In 2021,’ she tells me, ‘I was looking for a pastime, and began crafting scrunchies and scruffies.’ By the beginning of 2022, she had been accepted as a Pop-Up vendor. And why did she choose the Market to sell her products? ‘I’ve been coming here my whole life,’ she remarks, ‘and have always loved the energy and community here.’ 

Liv’s products have been flying off the shelves. In fact, she’s been selling so many scrunchies and scruffies that she has had to hire staff. ‘Currently,’ she tells me, ‘I employ two seamstresses locally, and another two overseas.’ Wow. What a stellar example of how the Young Entrepreneur Pop-Up initiative is succeeding in its goals: to help mentor and develop aspiring business owners, and to feed a series of new, exciting enterprises into the Market funnel. 

‘The Pop-Up program is all about encouraging and endorsing what these young entrepreneurs are trying to achieve with their emergent businesses,’ Megan tells me when I get back to her. ‘I’m happy that we can be an incubator for their ideas – and their dreams.’ An incubator, for sure. Enabling. Encouraging. Cradling. Validating. A win-win, if you ask me 

*The Young Entrepreneurs Pop-Up initiative runs year-round and is always accepting new applications. Visit stjacobsmarket.com/young-entrepreneur-pop-up for details.