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Snapshot: A year after opening fair-trade store in State College, Ten Thousand Villages is thriving

by on September 30, 2019 2:53 PM

Ten Thousand Villages of State College has seen a successful year of growth since opening a store on South Atherton Street last fall. One of many Ten Thousand Villages outlets in Pennsylvania, its mission remains the same: creating fair trade opportunities for artisans in developing countries.

The State College store, at 1341 South Atherton, beat the projections of its original business plan as it looks toward continued growth.

“It’s hard to believe that our ‘new’ store has been open for more than a year,” says Joel Weidner, chair of the board of directors. “Our first year has been a success, thanks to the response from the community, and now we’re looking to be a permanent part of the retail scene in State College.”

The store in State College is the culmination of two years of fundraising after a nonprofit corporation was formed in October 2016. University Mennonite Church had been doing a Ten Thousand Villages annual holiday sale for 25 years. Several people in the church had dreamed of having a permanent store in State College for years, according to Weidner, and last year that dream became a reality.

“In addition to learning, I think we also consider it to be a success with lots of work moving forward,” says Mary Dickson, director of marketing.

Embodying the meaning of fair trade, Ten Thousand Villages has worked with artisans from around the world for more than 50 years. They’ve helped create a market for handcrafted products that has allowed families to earn a living for generations, while being able to share their stories.

The organization prides itself in being a pioneer in fair trade with the make-to-market movement, ensuring artisans are making a fair living wage in safe working conditions. Ten Thousand Villages also believes in sustainable practices that use locally sourced, recycled, and renewable materials. The investing partnerships with local and international communities is key to making strong relationships for the organization around the country.

Being one of the smaller Ten Thousand Villages has proven not to be a challenge for the State College store. Successful stores in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Mechanicsburg, Lancaster, and Ephrata have also been a big help in providing guidance. The State College store has managed to make a splash with rising sales numbers.

“We believed that this community would support the concept of fair trade and ethical trading relationships and we were right,” says Weidner.

A few of its best-selling products include black pepper and lemon ginger dark chocolate bars and gossamer glow candle holders. But that just scratches the surface of some of the unique products the store has to offer. Shoppers can find an assortment of ethically sourced houseware, accessories, and decorations of all sorts from countries including India, Africa, Ecuador, and other parts of the world.

The store has been active in collaborating with local organizations and hopes to become more involved with Penn State and THON in the future. The store hopes to work with Penn State’s international community and clubs – some with ties to areas where its products are sourced – helping it connect with the ever-growing international cultures in State College.

“We’ve been able to partner with nonprofits in the community on events and different opportunities to communicate their mission, as well as ours, and continue to spread the word within the Centre County community,” Dickson says.

In November, the store will be a part of Pennsylvania’s third fair-trade rug event, which will include a large selection of hand-knotted tribal, Bokhara, and Persian rugs. For four days any customers interested in buying will also be able to bring several rugs home to see the best fit.

That’s one of many events throughout the year. Ten Thousand Villages State College Facebook page is always up and running with updated details on current events in its community calendar.

“We are so fortunate to have a dedicated staff and board of directors,” Weidner says. “The leadership they provide, coupled with an enthusiastic pool of volunteers who believe in our mission, is what makes the model work.”

The store has six board members and is staffed mainly by volunteers (more than 70 this past year), with two year-round staff members. As Ten Thousand Villages State College continues to grow, they’re always looking for more volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering, contact [email protected] for more information.

“We’re so much more than a store with beautiful handicrafts,” Weidner says. “At our heart, we’re a global development organization with the goal of providing sustainable income to our artisan partners around the world and helping our customers feel good about their purchases, knowing they’re making a difference promoting fair trade.”


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