BUFFALO, N.Y. — Many of Etsy's 3.4 million sellers have temporarily closed shop since April 11, the day the artisan marketplace put into effect a 30% raise on seller transaction fees.

Jillian Walkowiak of Buffalo started her shop, The Smell of Fear, on the site in 2019, where she sells horror-themed artisan candles. In the beginning, she said selling through Etsy had its perks.

What You Need To Know

  • Over 14,000 sellers on popular online marketplace Etsy have gone on strike from April 11 to April 18 to protest increased seller fees

  • Jillian Walkowiak, a Buffalo-based Etsy shop owner who participated in the strike, says the company has hurt small businesses, especially during the pandemic

  • Buffalo has been at the forefront of recent similar progressive movements, like having the first unionized Starbucks in the nation and many voters nearly electing Socialist mayoral candidate India Walton

“I was getting messages from different stores and brick-and-mortars that wanted to sell my candles,” she said. “Customers were reaching out; ‘Can you do this? What do you think of this candle?’ There was this great interaction. So it was really, first and foremost, the visibility, because it really helped to get my small business off the ground.”

The flame has gone out, however, as Jillian joined about 14,000 other sellers in a week-long strike.

She said her decision was in response to not only the new fees, but other changes the site has made within the past year that she says have given sellers a bad deal. This includes the Star Seller program, which many Etsy shop owners say has placed near-impossible demands on their operations.

“So many people were relying on Etsy for their income, you know, especially during the struggles of the pandemic,” Walkowiak said. “So for that rate increase to have been announced right on the heels of record-breaking profits just felt awful. It felt kind of like a slap in the face to small business owners.”

Being uniquely situated in a city that had the first unionized Starbucks in the nation and a nearly-elected Socialist mayoral candidate, India Walton, Walkowiak is optimistic that the progressivism seen in the city of Buffalo will spill into corporate America as a whole.

But there’s also cause for concern for those who can’t afford to risk their sources of income.

“There are so many workers that are being treated poorly,” Walkowiak said. “But so many of us are so desperate for those paychecks that it’s difficult for many to be able to hop on to a movement like this, right? So I think the key is that we really, really, really need to get the support. We could make such noise.”

Sellers participating in the strike have made demands for changes they want to see from Etsy, which include not only scrapping increased fees and the Star Seller program, but having access to faster support service, an option to opt out of offsite ads, and a plan from Etsy to crack down on resellers.

Some shop owners like Walkowiak, who have other avenues of sales, like retailers who carry her products and her own website, are considering leaving Etsy for good if changes aren’t made.

“It’s really important to me to stand in solidarity with the folks that don’t have those opportunities and are still relying on Etsy,” Walkowiak said. “So I’m part of the strike now. If things don’t change, I will take my small business off of the marketplace.”

Spectrum News 1 has reached out to Etsy for comment.