All I can say is wow. The group behind the Out of Hand Store on First Avenue has taken their dreams and plans to a reality that they can be proud of. They have turned a big empty space into a beautiful display of locally-made artwork and locally-grown produce.
I had a chance to get together with Lyn Nugent. She has taken on the task of coordinator and is holding down only one of a few paid positions in the organization.
The store, across from the Legion, has been a work in progress. Going back a few years when Jocelyn Pearce and Lyn were frequenting the Farmers Market with their many products from Narnia Farms, they dreamed of a venue that would be accessible all year long.
They made several attempts at locating an empty building for Christmas pop-ups to sell their wares.
“This finally started to wear thin setting up and taking down but the success driven by our clientele buoyed our courage,” Lyn said. “Why not? And finally in 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic we opened the doors.
“And right from the get-go, Smithers and area residents have supported us to the point that after the hard costs of rent and power, we can even pay our on-duty workers.”
It is so rewarding according to Lyn.
“We are able to give our shoppers a local choice and many come and check our products before heading to other sources.”
What is the criteria required to get a product into the store?
“Well, primarily we want to be driven to be local. As we have seen lately supply chains can become stretched depending on climate issues or transportation problems. We are using a 3-hour travel initiative to set our suppliers guidelines.
“That does not mean we would not look at other producers outside that limit but we are also trying not to take producers away from their local venues.
“Naturally, we jury our suppliers and try to have a true variety of products for our consumers. If everyone is making bowls and honey, we cannot fill the store with those items. The store can support 2-3 vendors of similar products at any one time and there is always a rotation in progress to give a variety of producers opportunity.”
How do they set the cost for products and how do they pay the vendors?
“The artists and producers set their own prices. The only requirement is a 20 per cent commission on sales to cover our overhead costs. Some vendors periodically volunteer for jobs to help the store run on budget and some vendors actually work as salespeople,” Lyn said.
“I think we are filling a niche in the retail world says. Tourists are always looking for local products. We also have a symbiotic relationship with our artists and producers, we need them for our local mandate and they need us to help market their wares, it’s a circle of cooperation.
“We are also trying to encourage more producers. Our ratio of artist to farmer has changed from around 50/50 to now 60/40 in favour of the farm products. We were in need of more market gardeners as consumers want more fresh local foods.
“To our delight, seven new gardeners are on board as of this spring. We also want to be sustainable and we’re concerned about waste. We offer compostable bags and are looking into returnable containers to be reused. Its a pretty exciting time as people are looking for viable options.
“Local food to sustain your life and local art to make your life worth living is our goal.”