Toronto’s Leslieville Flea Adopts New Hybrid Virtual/In-Person Approach to Markets

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Curated Toronto flea market Leslieville Flea has shifted into the digital world, embracing virtual markets as the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily halted its in-person community events.

And now that physical distancing measures are being lifted and the pop-up market is preparing to re-launch its in-person markets, Leslieville Flea plans to move forward with a hybrid approach that combines the best of both worlds.

Co-founders Brigid Elmy and Christine Roberts launched Leslieville Flea in 2013 to help local businesses and artisans get exposure and sell their products. The market specializes in vintage goods, sustainable products ,and handcrafted items.

“We started because of the need to provide platform for small business and for artisans to be able to show their wares,” says Elmy.


The duo typically hosts 15 to 18 one-day or two-day markets throughout the year in locations around the city, such as Ashbridge Estate, the Distillery District, and the Broadview Hotel. “We’ve been all over the city,” Elmy says.

Experimenting in the Face of COVID-19

When the pandemic began, Leslieville Flea was forced to cancel its April market. Once it became clear that physical distancing requirements would be in place for an extended period of time, Elmy and Roberts decided to try hosting an online market in May. Over a period of several days, participating vendors had the opportunity to take over Leslieville Flea’s Instagram Stories to promote their items. The participating vendors are also listed on Leslieville Flea’s website.

Although many retailers have gravitated towards online and e-commerce alternatives throughout the pandemic—some for the first time—for a concept like Leslieville Flea, shifting online presented an especially drastic change. Elmy says the in-person markets are opportunities for locals to gather in their community.

“The outdoor markets [we host] are not just about shopping,” she says. “They’re really about community, and a community of vendors, and connecting to a neighbourhood and getting out and saying hello to your neighbours.”

Since the virtual concept meant a major change in dynamic, it was an experiment for Leslieville Flea.

“We honestly didn’t know how well it was going to go at first, but it was very well received by both our vendors and our shoppers,” Elmy says. “People were really missing the flea market; they wanted to be able to reach out and connect with vendors again, and to be able to get the really unique items (our vendors offer). You wouldn’t see these items in a regular store, so people really missed that.”


A Digital Presence Means More Opportunity for Vendors

In addition to the positive response from existing customers and vendors, Elmy and Roberts realized that the digital concept unlocked the opportunity to expand the market’s reach to a much bigger audience.

“We can now go anywhere, we can go across Canada, and that is one of our future plans,” Elmy says.

Given the success of the inaugural online market, Leslieville Flea hosted a second digital market in June, in partnership with Toronto’s west-end Stackt Market. Through the partnership, customers could pick up the online items they’d purchased in-person at Stackt. That provided an option that both customers and vendors appreciated, Elmy says.

With Toronto having entered Stage 2 of the reopening framework in late June, allowing more businesses to resume operations, Leslieville Flea is now planning to resume its in-person markets. The first is planned for Sunday, July 19th in the outdoor space at Ashbridge Estate. A series of new measures aim to help keep attendees safe, including hand sanitizer upon entry, a requirement for vendors to wear masks, a distance of at least six feet between booths, and one-way traffic aisles.

Even though the traditional markets are getting back on track, however, Leslieville Flea also plans to continue with its virtual markets, offering a hybrid approach for vendors and customers. The next virtual market will begin on July 13th. “It gives people an option and it gives us reach,” Elmy says.

Article Author

Megan Harman
Megan Harman
Megan Harman is a business reporter based in Toronto. She writes about topics including retail, financial services and technology. Megan covers Toronto’s retail industry through her blog Retail Realm (

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