By now, you’ve probably heard of Ten Thousand Villages and the store that might open up in town.
At least that’s the goal that Joel Weidner and other members of the Ten Thousand Villages of Central Pa. board have been working toward over the past year. After launching the effort last fall, Ten Thousands Villages of Central Pa. was incorporated as a nonprofit in October 2016 and the board of directors held its first meeting in February.
“Primarily since then we’ve been fundraising and building a base of support, getting the word out,” said Weidner, who is the board chairman.
That’s meant attending various community events — Pop Up Ave, for example — holding mini-sales at places like Barranquero Cafe and giving presentations to a variety of groups. Part of the presentation is an overview of Ten Thousand Villages, a national network of retail stores specializing in fair trade products. Formed in the 1940s when Akron woman Edna Ruth Byler visited Puerto Rico and spotted fine embroidery created by women who were struggling to feed their children, the Mennonite Church-run organization now spans the globe.
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According to its website, the store network impacts the lives of 20,000 makers in 30 developing countries. The maker-centered business model includes long-term partnerships with artisan groups, good working conditions and an eco-conscious commitment.
“People are using recycled material and sustainable material to make really beautiful things that we can sell for them at a fair price,” said Deb Smith, a Ten Thousand Villages of Central Pa. board member.
Smith visited her first store in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and fell in love with the products and mission.
I just think the things are so beautiful and you can feel your heart connect to the people who are making them.
Deb Smith, Ten Thousand Villages of Central Pa. board member
“I’ve always been excited to find a Ten Thousand Villages store,” she said. “I just think the things are so beautiful and you can feel your heart connect to the people who are making them.”
Soon, she hopes to not have to travel far to visit a store. Start-up capital needed to open a new store is estimated to be a minimum of $100,000, but Ten Thousand Villages of Central Pa. has been pre-approved for a $50,000 matching grant from the Mennonite Central Committee. The local nonprofit has raised more than $30,000 over the past year, and organizers have high hopes for the largest event yet, the four-day International Craft Festival and Rug Event that starts on Wednesday.
“It’s possible to meet the goal,” Weidner said.
Held at the University Mennonite Church, the festival will feature a variety of Ten Thousands Villages handicrafts — jewelry, linens, woven baskets, ornaments, soaps — in addition to Bunyaad rugs from Pakistan. The church has long held an annual holiday craft festival, but this is the first year as a Ten Thousand Villages of Central Pa. fundraiser and the first time rugs have been sold.
Jean Landis, board vice chairwoman, said most of the pieces come from artisan groups that are part of a collective.
“You’re not just supporting one artisan or one artisan group, you’re supporting an entire community,” she said.
When the $50,000 goal is met, it’s on to the next step of the process, which might prove to be the biggest hurdle yet.
“The big unknown is: can we find the right location?” Weidner said.
Recent attempts to find a location for a temporary, pop-up store were unsuccessful. Board members are keeping their minds and options open when it comes to areas where the store could be located.
“It would be nice to be downtown so we can be accessible to the students,” Landis said.
After location is finalized, the next step would be to craft a business plan. The board is already getting help in that area through a collaboration with Smeal College of Business students, who will also assist with marketing efforts.
A State College store would require a hefty volunteer base, but Ten Thousand Villages of Central Pa. is already off to a good start, based on the volunteers who have signed up for the upcoming craft fair.
“We have 170 volunteer slots, and it’s looking good,” Weidner said.
On the dream timeline, Weidner said a store could be open by July. That’s if all the pieces fall into place and if it the process is smooth sailing — like it has been so far.
“It’s been a little over a year since we had the idea,” Weidner said. “I feel good about what we did and everybody we’ve talked to seems excited about it.”