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Q&A with Joel Weidner, on the new Ten Thousand Villages fair trade store in State College

by on September 27, 2018 11:58 AM

For a quarter-century, Centre County residents have helped to support the nonprofit fair trade organization Ten Thousand Villages.

Now the effort has a permanent home – a store at 1341 S. Atherton Street in State College. The shop had a soft opening in mid-September and holds its grand opening October 19-26. The store will open with two employees, and otherwise will rely on volunteers.

It’s the culmination of two years of fundraising after a non-profit corporation was formed in October 2016.

Joel Weidner, board chair of Ten Thousand Villages of Central PA Inc., spoke with Town&Gown about those efforts, and plans for the new store.

T&G: What is the philosophy behind Ten Thousand Villages?

Weidner: Ten Thousand Villages seeks to provide sustainable income to artisans in developing countries by providing a market for their goods in North America. Ten Thousand Villages creates fair trade business relationships that are "ethical at every step." This includes:

  • A fair price. We pay mutually agreed upon prices for artisans’ creations and deliver advance payments to nurture resilient enterprises that can grow and flourish. 
  • Long-term partnerships.  
  • Good working conditions. We ensure that artisans have safe and healthy places to work. Child labor is prohibited in an effort to keep kids in school and out of the workforce. 
  • Design collaboration. We share trend details with makers and team up to create inventive modern designs that preserve traditional skills of craftsmanship passed down through generations.
  • Eco-conscious commitment. We aim to keep the earth’s resources in balance, emphasizing the use of recycled or renewable natural materials and applying sustainable environmental practices.
  • Empowered voices. We partner with women and people who are often overlooked so all have a chance to thrive and create change for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Ten Thousand Villages works with over 20,000 makers in more than 30 countries. Founded in 1946, the organization is a pioneer in the fair trade movement.

T&G: How did the idea for the store evolve?

Weidner: University Mennonite Church has been doing a Ten Thousand Villages annual holiday sale for the last 25 years. Several individuals in the church dreamed of having a permanent store in State College for many years. When I retired from Penn State, I finally had the time to dedicate to exploring the idea. We began as a small planning committee, calling ourselves, Friends for Ten Thousand Villages Store in State College. In the fall of 2016 we invited leadership from Ten Thousand Villages to attend a community meeting in State College to talk with supporters, answer questions, and tour the town. After that meeting, Ten Thousand Villages decided that they would support a store in State College and gave us the go-ahead to begin fundraising. We incorporated, formed a board of directors, and received our 501(3)(c) status, and began raising money through sales and by soliciting outright donations.

T&G: What makes this community a good market for a store?

Weidner: The town has an educated and diverse population that is supportive of international cultures and of the concept of fair trade – that workers should be paid fairly for the goods they produce.

The town is also growing and has a significant population with disposal income.

There has also been demonstrated support for Ten Thousand Villages via the successful annual sales held by University Mennonite Church and annual sales that have been held on-campus in support of THON.

There is also good brand awareness in Pennsylvania with successful stores operating in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Mechanicsburg, Lancaster, and Ephrata.

T&G: What did it take to make the store a reality?

Weidner: Ten Thousand Villages told us that we should raise a minimum of $100,000 to open a new store. We were fortunate to be awarded a $50,000 matching grant from the Mennonite Central Committee (the world-wide relief organization for the Mennonite Church and parent organization of Ten Thousand Villages). With income from our sales, donations from generous donors, and the matching grant, we raised more than $120,000 in less than two years.

Finding a site for the store was a challenge. The commercial real-estate market in State College is pretty tight and there are not a lot of suitable spaces. We were initially thinking that we would be located downtown, but were unable to find the right space. We think our space at 1341 S. Atherton (Talbot's Plaza) will be a great location. It has lots of convenient parking and is on a major thoroughfare. Being located in the same plaza as Talbot's is a plus.

T&G: What can people expect to find in the store?

Weidner: The store will be filled with housewares, kitchenware, jewelry, decorative items, and accessories that is all hand-crafted by international artisans. You'll find wall-hangings, pillows, and throws from India; baskets from Uganda and Bangladesh; purses from Guatemala; scarves from Vietnam, Laos, and Egypt; dishes and glass from the West Bank; singing bowls from Nepal, and so much more. Prices range from $5 to $250.

We will be planning a special oriental rug sale for November 28 to December 1 where we'll feature fairly traded, high-quality hand-knotted rugs made in Pakistan.

T&G: Anything else you’d like the community to know about this effort?

Weidner: We'll need lots of volunteers to make the store a success. Volunteering will be fun and satisfying – knowing you are helping to make a difference in the world. If you're interested in volunteering, contact our volunteer coordinator at [email protected].

We have a great board of directors but are always looking for new board members who would like to get involved. We are currently seeking an attorney and a CPA to join our board. If you are interested in finding out more about becoming a board member, contact me at [email protected].


Mark Brackenbury is editorial director of Town&Gown.


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