Capturing Shoppers’ Hearts Five Bucks at a Time

It’s not easy for a nine-year-old to make money in this world says Oliver Flegel’s mom. But the Christmas season proved lucrative for the young entrepreneur, whose income has predominantly of the $1-per-chore variety.

On Nov. 24, however, Flegel walked away from the KIAC Christmas Arts and Craft Fair in Dawson City with $150 in hand and the kind of confidence that comes from a line-up of customers wanting a hand-drawn portrait.

Turns out his portraits were finding their way into people’s hearts, five bucks at a time – six bucks if they opted for one of three background designs that cost extra.

ODD Gallery director Evan Rensch is a customer who commissioned Flegel to do a portrait of himself and his girlfriend, Elaine Cordon, at the fair.

“We don’t have any photos of ourselves together, but we do have a portrait by Oliver,” says Rensch. “We’d like to get it framed one day.”

For now it’s stored in an envelope. He’s tempted to put it on the fridge, but doesn’t want to get any schmutz on it.

Rensch appreciates the effort Flegel put into the portraits.

“He was really concentrated,” Rensch says. “He moved his pen really slowly, then back-tracked, then erased a bit… It was very considered, I would say.”

It’s a meaningful compliment when the director of an art gallery appreciates one’s work.

However, Flegel started out the day with trepidation rather than confidence, his mother Janice Cliff says. Together the pair prepared for exposing their art to the public: Flegel with photos and portraits, Cliff with photo-based artwork.

“On the morning of the craft fair he had a moment of panic and said, ‘What if no one wants a portrait done?'” says Cliff. “I know the feeling. I had a twinge of it myself.”

But soon a customer came, then another, and at one point there was a line-up.

“I think it says a lot about our community that they’re 100 per cent supportive of kids’ initiatives,” Cliff says.

The demand surprised Flegel.

“When I looked at the portraits after, I didn’t really like them,” he says. “I thought I could do better. But when everyone started coming in and wanting one, I realized I’m a kid and this is how kids draw.”

After completing 20 portraits and earning $150, Flegel and his mom headed home.

While pondering what to do with the money, Cliff learned about an initiative to raise money for a family friend diagnosed with breast cancer and discussed it with her son.

After offering to donate $100 to the cause, having his mom reduce it to $25 and Flegel counter-offering $30, his mom made arrangements to donate $25. Her motivation was to teach Flegel about money: about earning, saving, spending and sharing.

For Flegel, making the donation made him feel good.

“There was a girl, she was just about to have a baby and she was diagnosed with breast cancer and I decided to donate money to her, because my friend Jonathan’s mother just died of breast cancer and I don’t want that to happen to my mom’s friend, her husband or the baby,” Flegel says. “And the money is to help her heal and to buy a wig, because your hair falls out when you get cancer.”

And what’s next for Flegel? The craft fair turned out to be a good networking experience, too. Flegel was offered a part in his 11-year-old friend Jack’s musical, which is in the works.

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