Etsy-like website Fort Collins Marketplace opens to help local businesses through COVID-19

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Edwards House Bed and Breakfast owner Abby Stout, now also owner of Cedar and Sage Mercantile, sits in the front room of her bed and breakfast in Fort Collins, Colo. on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. Stout's newly opened mercantile offers locally sourced products on the new Fort Collins Marketplace established by Visit Fort Collins to help local merchants and crafters through the pandemic.

If you can’t experience Fort Collins this holiday season, Fort Collins will bring the experience to you.

At least that’s the idea behind Fort Collins Marketplace, a new e-commerce platform formally launched on Black Friday by Visit Fort Collins, the nonprofit that promotes the city as a tourism destination. 

The Etsy-like e-commerce site gives local merchants a chance to sell “made-here, done-here” items and experiences for those wanting a uniquely Fort Collins gift to put under the tree. 

Born out of a desire to help promote Fort Collins and its businesses during the pandemic, the site plays on the best the city has to offer: the products made here and the experiences locals like to share with out-of-town guests — whether it’s cinnamon rolls from Silver Grill, a future stay at the Armstrong Hotel or crafts that would have been sold at artisan fairs. 

“In the short-term, the site is absolutely COVID related,” said Cynthia Eichler, executive director of Visit Fort Collins. “How could we stand in the gap during this difficult time frame to help keep local businesses and cash registers ringing?” 

Without the pandemic, Eichler said Visit Fort Collins would not have been “nudged” toward an e-commerce site. It considered a gift card program and that “pushed us to say, ‘What value can we bring? How can we support the community in different ways and where are we needed?'” 

The marketplace will be promoted on Visit Fort Collins’ extensive social media platforms, including its website that gets more than 1 million views per year. 

Abbie Stout, owner of the historic Edwards House Bed & Breakfast, hopes the additional exposure will boost sales for Edwards’ Cedar & Sage Mercantile, all-natural and sustainable home goods now sold at the B&B. 

“It will give us extra exposure to a crowd that maybe we aren’t reaching,” Stout said. “It’s a total gain for everyone.”

For now, Cedar & Sage is housed at the Edwards House. After the pandemic, Stout hopes to open a storefront in Fort Collins, but plans to stay with Fort Collins Marketplace.

“It’s just run to be part of a neat project,”  said Stout, who bought The Edwards House three years ago.

Coming out on the other side 

When Fort Collins comes out on the other side of the pandemic, “we want people in their same buildings doing the same thing they are doing,” Eichler said. “If you’re a local businesses this can be a great asset.”

Jill Popplewell of Jill Anne Designs is selling her brightly colored mandalas on the marketplace as well as at Trimble Court Artisans, which she manages.  

She normally sells her work at local artisan fairs, too, but this year, they’ve all been canceled.

“Now those crafters can bring those things to market without those venues,” Eichler said. 

The Fort Collins Marketplace isn’t just for crafters, however. As of Monday, there were 154 pages of goods, including art by Kaley Alie, a night out package from Chipper’s Lanes, a Bloody Mary gift basket from CopperMuse, distillery and brewery swag, loose tea from Happy Lucky’s Teahouse and much more. 

Adding experiences to the mix created a new wrinkle, Eichler said. But whether it’s booking a future stay at the Armstrong and ordering a gift basket that will be in the room when the guest arrives, or a voucher to book a beer and bike tour, the platform puts cash in merchants’ hands now “and execution hopefully this summer.”

Visit Fort Collins urged crafters and merchants to think outside the box to help create “a different distribution channel for economic strength. It’s the city’s version of Etsy and beyond,” she said.

As an author, Kerrie Flanagan’s books are already online. 

But especially during a pandemic, there’s no chance to get in front of the community: No book signings, no author talks. 

The new e-commerce site, however, “gives creatives another opportunity to share their products in this fun and unique way,” Flanagan said. “This allows me to think outside the box and get more creative and put together unique packages and experiences for the community.”

Flanagan, who writes books for children and adults, created individualized packages that tie into her books.

“Claire’s Christmas Catastrophe” comes with a personalized, signed copy of the book, a cookie cutter, coloring pages and crayons, and recipes the family can make together.

“I love it because it’s typically not something I get to do,” Flanagan said. 

For adults, she’s offering autographed copies for book clubs and a virtual visit with book club members. “Book clubs are still popular, even during COVID,” Flanagan said. “I will arrange to come and virtually visit their book club so we can talk about the book and interact that way.”

She’s also throwing in fun bonuses as a surprise. “I really want it to be a fun experience and want it to be memorable for everyone in the book club.”

How it works

Fort Collins Marketplace is free for merchants through January.

Visit Fort Collins will take a 5% fee that pays the credit card fees and “leaves a skinny margin” to cover its costs, Eichler said. The site will collect and remit the sales taxes to the city, freeing small crafters and vendors from the paperwork. 

A collections of items for sale from the newly opened Cedar and Sage Mercantile housed inside the Edwards House B&B sits on a table in the bed and breakfast in Fort Collins, Colo. on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. The mercantile offers locally sourced products on the new Fort Collins Marketplace established by Visit Fort Collins to help local merchants and crafters through the pandemic.

Businesses must have a PayPal account, can designate items as pickup only, ship only, or offer a choice. Businesses have to commit to shipping items within three days of receiving an order. 

Customers can shop the site and purchase items from multiple businesses in a single transaction, kind of like a very scaled-down Amazon. 

For merchants who want to continue after January, annual agreements will begin Feb. 1. 

Shop Fort Collins Marketplace

To shop at Fort Collins Marketplace, visit visitftcollins.com or directly at fortcollinsmarketplace.com

Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at patferrier@coloradoan.com. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.