How difficult is it to become a vendor at St. Lawrence Market
The St. Lawrence Market is one of those infallible pillars of Toronto's historic makeup — sort of like Casa Loma or the CN Tower — where, contrary to what Drake says, everything stays the same.
For over 200 years, what began as strictly a farmers' market has become the downtown mecca for fresh produce, local products, and tasty eats. Once rated by Nat Geo as one of the top food markets in the world, a place on St. Lawrence Market's roster of vendors is a coveted spot.
But getting the opportunity to sells your arts and crafts or farm-grown carrots on the St. Lawrence grounds is hard, really hard, and if you're trying to snag one of those city-owned leases inside the actual building, it's nearly impossible.
Whether you're trying to be a merchant at the Farmers' Market, Arts at the Market or the South Market, there are different application processes you'll have to follow. After that, the best you can do is cross your fingers.
Definitely the easiest area to get your foot into, the Arts at the Market program was introduced in 2016 to complement all the food being offered at St. Lawrence on Fridays and Saturdays.
If you're a crafty person, this outdoor market on Front Street East is where you'll go to sell your handmade goods from the Easter long weekend until the end of October.
But before you do that, prepare to go through a pretty comprehensive process. Beginning in January every year, the application process will usually consist of you writing an artist overview that details the types of products you make, photos of your product and your work studio.
If you make it past that point, you'll have to appear in front of a jury (dun dun dun) for an interview around February or March where you'll be asked about your inspos while the six-person panel examines your product and potential booth set up.
After that, your score will determine whether or not you've made it to the list of seven vendors per month — a list which rotates depending on if vendors are set up for a one-month booth or for the whole season.
The good thing about Arts in the Market is that vendors are required to reapply every year, meaning it's always a fresh slate at the beginning of the season.
One of the major aspects of the market is its emphasis on heritage, thus the fact that of the 120-plus vendors that operate in the South Market now, most are family-owned and have been around since the 1970s.
According to Samantha Wiles of St. Lawrence's marketing team, it's been at least a decade since the last vacancy in the South Market, easily making it the hardest section of the market to get into.
Aside from the legacy factor, a large part of the difficulty is due to the fact stalls in South Market are leased from the city on long-term, five-year basis' with options to extend another five years.
Still, you can try to apply and the St. Lawrence Market admin will keep your application on file for a year until you have to reapply again the following year.
The most historic feature of St. Lawrence Market, this Saturday market of fresh tomatoes, kale and carrots located at 125 The Esplanade (while the North Market is being renovated) is the second hardest section to break into.
There are three categories of vendors here: farmers, processors, and re-sellers, with processor memberships actually being a harder spot to score than the farmers one.
Many farmers selling produce here have been around since St. Lawrence Market's inception (yes, over 200 years ago), with family-run farms that have been passed down through the generations.
The only chance you have of becoming a farmer here is if one of the legacy vendors decides they're tired of the farm life and retires, or simply closes the business for whatever reason: surprisingly this happens more often than you'd think.
After that, the St. Lawrence Market admin will consult the Farmers Market Committee — basically the Jedi Council of farmers — to gauge all new applications, who'll have to meet stringent requirements.
And even if you don't make it into the market, there's a chance you'll make it onto the roster, so that you can sub in for farmers on the off-chance they can't occupy their table.
As of right now, there's an expectation to keep 80 per cent of the businesses as farmers. There are barely any re-sellers in St. Lawrence due to the emphasis on self-made products, however the Market is trying to make it easier for processors.
A new table was just established this year for a single rotating processor vendor selling things like jam, sauces, or spices, as well as another rotational table for wines and ciders, meaning there's still hope for anyone trying to sell their homemade vegan doggie treats!
St. Lawrence Market is definitely a high-regulated area for vendors of all types, but at the end of the day that's probably what makes the selection so good.
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