It’s the first time that I have come across a virtual xmas market. This one happens on facebook. It’s local and run by small businesses. I guess it does make sense in these days of lockdown, quarantine and self-isolation.
There are 44 stalls selling everything from perfumes to afternoon tea and even personal training. The group was started by Julie Gray and Chloe Baines at the beginning of October and the aim is simple: to help other small businesses and work together. They invited businesses to ask for a virtual stall at the market and then opened up for customers. Julie explained: “It went mad. I already work full time, have my own businesses (FM by Jules) and I am also part of Scentsational. This venture is run jointly by Lucy, Chloe, Tracy Alexander and Lucy Clayton.
Erin Hope-Hume from Newcastle is one of the stallholders at the virtual xmas market. She runs The Sweetie Bandit in both Newcastle and Gateshead. I asked Erin how she started:
“It really came about almost through chance. During lockdown I was unable to work and wasn’t earning anything. Whilst I was sitting round in my pyjamas, eating chocolate for breakfast and scrolling through facebook I came across an advert from a small, family run sweet shop in Torquay which got me thinking. It seemed like a great way of keeping busy during lockdown and I figured if worst came to worst I’d just end up with a load of sweets to eat myself! Luckily it’s going pretty well and we are building up business slowly but steadily. All of our stock comes from the original Sweetie Bandit shop down in Torquay so I like the fact that we are also helping to support another small, family run business.”
Erin is really positive about the idea of a virtual Christmas market and hopes that it continues after Covid-19.
“Nothing beats the feeling and excitement of wandering around a real Christmas market, it’s one of my favourite things to do, but as we’re not able to do that this year this is the next best thing! People use the internet and online shopping a lot more these days and the really great thing about the virtual markets is that you can come across items and sellers you might not normally see… I’ve already spotted a few things from other sellers in the group that I’ll be buying too!”
The Sweetie Bandit offers products for a huge range of dietary needs. Erin explains that they already have vegan, vegetarian, gluten free and sugar free options and are looking into other possibilities too. These options cost the same as the standard versions which has gone down really well with customers.
The virtual xmas market has many benefits for the local community. Erin adds
“It brings sellers and small businesses together and allows them to network and support each other. It gives customers the chance to browse and shop from the comfort of their own home which is especially important during times like these for those who are vulnerable or isolated. At the Sweetie Bandit, Newcastle we offer socially distanced doorstep delivery on all products too so we really do our best to make things as easy as possible for all our customers. I think giving back to the community and to small local businesses is so important… whether that’s by offering a service or product, buying goods from a local business, or just liking or sharing a post online. It’s all appreciated beyond words. The virtual market so far seems to be helping to create a real community spirit and feeling of people supporting one another and I’m sure that will continue in the run up to Christmas.”
It seems that the initial aim of businesses working together is really working. After Christmas the group plans to keep the market going into the January sales and then throughout 2021.
This is part 1 of a feature on the local virtual xmas market 2020. More on other stalls coming soon…
You can find The Sweetie Bandit on facebook.