Monday, Jun 27, 2016
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Crafts from 33 nations fill small store in Bluffton

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Joyce Hostetler, assistant manager of the Ten Thousand Villages shop in Bluffton, shows off a mirror made in Indonesia.

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BLUFFTON, Ohio - For Katie Kelly, a sophomore at Bluffton University, there are plenty of reasons to walk over to the small but cozy Ten Thousand Villages shop on South Main Street when she wants to find a special gift.

"It's different and unique," she said. "And it's nice to know you're helping people from other countries."

Like more than 100 similar shops across the country, Ten Thousand Villages sells handicrafts created by 30,000 artisans from 33 developing countries. The nonprofit program operated by the Mennonite Central Committee gives the artisans a fair price for their goods, pays them 50 percent when an order is placed, and pays the balance when the order is shipped.

"The way it benefits the artisans, besides paying a fair wage, is that when we sell a product, we can immediately place more orders," said Missy Schrock, manager of the Bluffton store. "It's a more consistent way of providing them with income."

And, as the Ten Thousand Villages brochure states, "Continuing orders provide artisans with stability and room to dream."

The colorful, 620-square-foot shop in Bluffton gives shoppers room to dream too.

"There's no other shop around like this,'' said Millie Zachrich of Leipsic, Ohio, who was admiring a basket of vibrant blue-and-black polished stones with fish painted on the tops. They were made in Vietnam.

Her son, Tim, was drawn to an array of musical instruments in the rear of the store.

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Kate Kelly and Katie Morman, both students at Bluffton University, examine the merchandise at the Ten Thousand Villages shop, located on South Main Street just blocks from the campus.

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"I'm musically inclined, and I saw the rain sticks," he said.

There were drums from West Africa and India and joyful-sounding rhythm instruments used at weddings and other celebrations in the artisans' native lands. Each item's price tag indicates the country where it was made.

"That's one of the things we really feel we do here is teach geography," said Joyce Hostetler, assistant manager and a longtime volunteer at the shop.

In addition to the Bluffton location, there is a Ten Thousand Villages shop in Archbold and one named the Wide World Shop in Port Clinton. One of the newest Ten Thousand Villages locations opened recently in Ann Arbor.

As much as possible, workers tell customers the story behind the items they are buying or admiring and briefly explain how Ten Thousand Villages works.

Strolling through the Bluffton shop, it's apparent some of the items - dazzling jewelry, handmade stationery, colorful rugs, glazed dishes, and Colombian coffee - are functional items. Others are, as Ms. Hostetler described them, "just beautiful."

The merchandise is not cheap - in quality or price.

"Our point isn't to make it as cheap as possible but to make it at a fair price so that people here can buy them," she said. "Our goal is to buy as much as we can."

The shop takes its merchandise on the road a few times a year. It has had an off-site, before-Christmas sale in Findlay and Lima for several years. This year, Ten Thousand Villages will be at Trinity United Methodist Church in Bowling Green for the first time Oct. 27-29.

The off-site events, which give 10 percent of the sales to the host church or a charity of their choice, generate about $10,000 each year. The shop itself had $90,000 in sales last year, which was the first time it was able to end the year in the black, Ms. Schrock said.

Like many Ten Thousand Villages shops, including the one in Archbold, the Bluffton store, which opened in 1974, began in conjunction with a second-hand store called the Et Cetera Shop. For years, income from the thrift shop supplemented the gift shop's operations, while the remainder of its profits went to the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief, service, and peace agency that operates the Ten Thousand Villages program.

Ms. Schrock said that while the income generated by Ten Thousand Villages goes directly into buying more merchandise, the Et Cetera Shop next door wrote a check last week to the Mennonite Central Committee that put its total contributions since 1974 over the $1 million mark. It was a milestone for the Bluffton operation.

"The thrift shop network in the United States and Canada generates about $7 million a year for the Mennonite Central Committee," she said. "So in the grand scheme of things, $1 million over 30 years seems like a drop in the bucket."

Ms. Schrock struggled to explain why she believes it's important to support a program like Ten Thousand Villages rather than shop at a big-box store. She said it's a way to help close the widening gap between the rich and the poor and to see how your decisions can affect others across the globe.

She pointed to an Indian motto displayed in the shop: "Not by charity or by sympathy but through hard work and integrity we shall strive for our dignity."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-3972.

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