You can tell how much Brad Hewlett loves Forks Trading Company just by strolling through the store with him. He has a story to tell about each artisan showcased on the shelves. His eyes light up with each description of another unique product. And as he approaches the moccasin section, he turns to me with a grin on his face.
Brad wants to show me the display he made – a wooden crate perched overhead with a sign reading ‘Moccasins for tall people’, and another at waist-height indicating ‘Moccasins for short people’. He chuckles as he points it out, making sure I get the joke.
That’s the kind of good-natured fun Brad has in his store. When The Forks opened 16 years ago – in October 1989 – hewas one of the first tenants, selling wooden ducks out of a kiosk named Splinters. In 1995, he purchased Yesteryear Flower and Candle, eventually changing its name to Two Rivers. Then in 2009 he took over The Craft Cupboard, renamed it Forks Trading Company, and launched what would become one of the Market’s busiest retail outlets.
Megan Basaraba is General Manager and Buyer for Forks Trading Company. Coming from a fast-paced (and stressful!) career as a second Assistant Director in the film industry, Megan finds the retail world a welcome reprieve. She loves working there as much as she loves shopping there, playfully suggesting it’s a volunteer job since all the money she earns goes right back into the store.
Customers have come to know Forks Trading Company as the place to go for high-quality merchandise by local artisans. Everything they sell is handmade in Canada, with the majority made in Manitoba. One of Megan's favourite parts of the job is sourcing new product lines. Since artisans are constantly upping the standard of what they’re creating, Forks Trading Company has to continually up their standard, too. They take great pride in carrying the best of the best, the beautifully imperfect, the one-of-a-kind.
Pottery is a best-seller, produced by the likes of Susan Gurman from Lorette, Steve Jorgenson from Birds Hill, and other local potters. Soaps and candles from popular companies such as Soy Harvest, Harlow, and Coal and Canary are also in hot demand.
You’ll find jewelry, hats, scarves, fashions, sunglasses, essential oils, colognes, books, kitchen utensils, stone carvings, and the list goes on. Looking for maple syrup, specialty chocolate, or ready-to-cook soup mixes? They’ve got that, too. For kids, there’s a section of thoughtfully-made toys, clothing and keepsakes.
Most purchases come with a write-up about the artisan, while scheduled meet-and-greets give shoppers the chance to connect with the people behind the products. Starting in November, they’ll offer private shopping nights with drinks, snacks, samples and discounts – a practice already growing in popularity at the Blue Heron in Kenora, another shop owned by Brad.
Megan and Brad have a great time showcasing what’s best suited for each season, and coming up with new ways to do retail differently. Their mutual goal is for customers to have an enjoyable shopping experience every time they walk through the doors.
And I’ll bet they do.