A local market is shining a spotlight on small businesses in Calgary after many of them persevered through two years of pandemic-related restrictions.
The Hidden Gem market is located in Kensington, with its original store in Okotoks. Founder Vic Tipper says the market is a collection of vendors and creators sharing the same space.
“What’s different about it is that I give everybody their own store,” he says. “When you walk through Hidden Gem there’s about 60 booths in there.”
While it can sound similar to other marketplaces people visit, Tipper says he puts a lot of effort into making sure every vendor who takes part in Hidden Gem is seen.
“When you go into most markets, you’ll see just shelves everywhere, you don’t know who’s here,” he says. “We really wanted to make sure that these vendors had a chance to showcase themselves in a store with a storefront basically.”
Along with ensuring every vendor is seen, Tipper also makes an effort to showcase different types of small businesses that share the space together.
“Whatever they create, that’s what you’ll see in here,” he says. “So we’ve got preserves through the year, we’ve got art, we’ve got wood creations, metal creations, 3D printings, signs, cups, it’s really endless.”
Tipper and his family started Hidden Gem in July 2021 after COVID hit them hard. He originally had a renovation company and within the first week of the pandemic, he lost four contracts.
“We have six kids and an acreage, so you know, ‘What are we gonna do?’ ” says Tipper of his circumstances at that time. What Tipper did was start another business using the skills he built over the years from his renovation company.
“We started making furniture, basically wanting to sell the furniture and stuff, which we ended up selling off our acreage lawn,” he says. “Not very professional.”
After a while, Tipper decided to look into getting a storefront to sell the furniture, however the rents were high and the locations were too big, and that’s when he thought of Hidden Gem. He decided that if he couldn’t fill a large space, he could rent the space and give other business owners grappling with the same problem a solution as well.
Helping others get dreams off the ground
Having a business collective like Hidden Gem is something that Tipper believes everybody should be doing.
“It felt really great to be able to provide that to people cost effectively,” he says. “So if they lost their business, or they lost their work… they’re able to keep their store going here.”
Additionally, Tipper’s proud of everyone who has come together to lend a hand and keep these businesses running and says he couldn’t do it without them.
“To be honest with you, without the community, it would be super hard,” he says. “But the way that everybody’s banded together in the sense of the big local push, and helping the smaller guy, help a small business, that’s really helped us do this.”
Part of what makes Hidden Gem important to Tipper is the entrepreneurial spirit and the spirit of community. He wants people to remember that when people come together, it can work.
As for what’s next, Tipper says there are plans to open a third location, however he’s not ready to give out the details just yet.
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