Happy Valley craft icon closes its doors for good

Derek Montague
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For many people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, it was a sad sight to behold last week.  Drumdancer Arts & Crafts, — which had existed at the Labrador Friendship Centre since 1992 — was almost completely bare.

Shoppers looking for crafts and materials scour Drumdancer Arts & Crafts before it closed for good earlier this month. — Photo by  Derek Montague/The Labradorian

On Nov. 8, the last day that the craft shop was open, Drumdancer held a 75 per cent off sale to clear out their remaining inventory. Being Christmas shopping season, it wasn’t long before the beautiful pieces of art were snatched off the shelves and purchased.

By 1 p.m. only a few odds and ends remained and most of it was craft material, such as necklace beads.

“Most people — when they came in and started to see stuff disappearing off the shelves — felt it was sad, very sad,” said Jennifer Hefler-Elson, Executive Director of the Labrador Friendship Centre.

A lot has changed in the Labrador Craft industry since 1992. Back than, Drumdancer was one of the only places where craftmakers could sell their products locally. And since the Labrador Friendship Centre is a non-profit organization, they could sell raw materials to the artists at a low markup rate.

“The raw materials were actually quite a good sales item for us,” says Hefler-Elson. “And it would just provide the artists and the crafts people with the material to make their crafts and to make a living for themselves.”

Jane Gear is one of the craftmakers who sold her items to Drumdancer ever since it first opened in 1992. Over the years she has made Labrador mittens, slippers, oopiks, and miniature sealskin seals, among other crafts.

Gear enjoyed doing business with Drumdancer because the craft shop would buy her products upfront, rather than being placed on consignment.

“When I take it there, they pay me for it. … I get paid right away, no consignment,” said Gear.

Gear never imagined that the Drumdancer would cease to exist. The news of the craft shop’s closure took her by surprise.

“My gosh, I could hardly believe it,” says Gear. “I’m sorry they’ve closed because they sold good material, too.”

Even though Drumdancer’s mandate was never about making a big profit, it was actually quite successful financially in earlier years.

“The mandate of the craft shop was to make sure that we covered off the objective of promoting aboriginal artists and their product,” says Hefler-Elson.

“It was very successful (financially) when it first started … I know for a period of time, the craft shop actually helped provide income to the Friendship Centre.”

But that all changed in recent years. With more craft shops to choose from in central Labrador, and the availability for people to buy and sell crafts online, Drumdancer’s revenue began to fall.

By the time Hefler-Elson joined the Friendship Centre as executive director in 2011, the conversation had already begun on the future of Drumdancer.

“My first year here, they had a small loss, and last year there was a bigger loss. The first five months of this fiscal year, the deficit was still starting to get higher.”

In fact, during the previous fiscal year, Drumdancer had a loss of $19,000. With the shop not making money, or even breaking even, a tough choice had to be made.

“When I came onboard, we talked about (closing) it in the first year. …we decided to keep it open, because it was still employing two people — one full time and one part time — and I liked being able to provide employment for aboriginal people and was able to do that. … So we decided, in discussion with the board, that we keep it open for another year, see how it went.”

Hefler-Elson says having to lay off a full-time employee makes the emotional decision to close Drumdancer all the more difficult.

“If we can provide opportunity for an aboriginal person for employment, it’s a good thing,” says Hefler-Elson. “And when you lose a position, it’s not a good thing. So that was a sad part of the decision.”

The Labradorian

Organizations: Friendship Centre

Geographic location: Labrador, Happy Valley

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