Keep your dollars close to home

Shop in your 'hood for handmade gifts that won't break the bank

If the thought of hitting the mall this holiday season gives you a panic attack, consider shopping for items created by local artisans and craftspeople in your area.

Julie Glick, artist and managing partner of Red Sable gallery on Danforth Avenue, sells one-of-a-kind handmade creations for 30 or so artists and craftspeople from southern Ontario — about a third of whom are from the immediate surrounding area.

“It’s a neighbourhood concept,” Glick says of the gallery, which carries everything from paintings and jewellery to leather bags and cutting boards.

“I think people are looking for originality and they’re looking to support local artisans,” she says.


You don’t have to break the bank when you buy such a piece, Glick says, though she admits there is a misperception that handmade is costlier.

“It doesn’t have to be expensive,” she says. “You can get a nice piece for $20.”

That $20 necklace may not be sterling, she says — more like surgical steel — but you tend to get what you pay for. If an item is pricier, there’s a reason, she says.

That said, other than art on the walls, most items in the gallery are under $100 and on average people spend $30–40 on an item.

Rhonda Fruitman agrees that handmade needn’t mean pricier. The owner of Whatever Lola Wants on Bayview Avenue, Fruitman stocks items made by a dozen or so Canadian artisans, about half from the GTA.

She says it’s a misconception that handmade local items are more costly than manufactured items, adding up-and-coming designers often sell their items for less when they are trying to get known.

By way of example, she mentions one Montréal designer who handcrafts leather bags and sells them for under $300 each. That’s less than a designer bag you can get at any big box discount store, she says.


While Fruitman says the value of handcrafted pieces can’t be underestimated, she admits there can be a negative stereotype associated with handmade goods.

“There’s the concept of crafty,” she says. “The concept that comes to mind is grannies sewing things onto pillows.”
Handmade items today, she says, are so much more than that.

The concept of buying locally produced one-of-a-kind items is growing in popularity, as anyone will know who has ever attended the jam-packed One of a Kind artisan show in Toronto around the Christmas season.

Further north in Vaughan, the idea is taking hold as well.

“Every year there seems to be more and more people,” says Sharon Gaum-Kuchar who organizes the annual Vaughan of a Kind arts show. “There is absolutely a demand.”

The show, which attracts about 60 artists from Vaughan and the surrounding area, is a great way for the public to purchase one-of-a-kind handmade pieces and interact with the artists who created them, Kuchar says.

Many of the artists don’t have a retail presence, she says, though some may have a website.

Plus, the personal stories behind some of the show’s participants are just too heartwarming. A pair of elderly ladies work all year knitting scarves, she says, and they sell them for really reasonable prices and people just eat them up.

“One lady actually walks with an oxygen tank.”


If you’re unsure where to go, Glick suggests finding the art fairs that are on this time of year, even events like church sales, though she cautions the latter may have more hand-knit booties than anything.

Shopping in a less central area, she suggests, may produce better deals for the budget savvy shopper. A trendy downtown boutique or gallery may have heftier pricetags on handmade goods.

“I’ve got some great pieces at Danforth prices,” says Glick.

The Ontario Crafts Council website ( will also have listings of events and shows in your area.


If you’re unsure of what kind of item to buy your loved one, Glick recommends going the practical route. She says the pieces that do best in the gallery are utilitarian pieces like vases, cutting boards, cups and bowls.

Fruitman has several approaches. She jokes that she likes to ask men who come in at the 11th hour, “How much trouble are you in?” when they are looking for gifts for their female partners. But in all seriousness, she says, it’s her job to help customers find the right gift.

And if you want to be extra sure that special person in your life will love it, Fruitman offers a Wish List service where customers can create a list of items from the store that they want.

About this article:

By: Kelly Gadzala
Posted: Dec 11 2009 12:53 pm
Filed in: Business
Edition: Toronto