Ten Thousand Villages opening permanent Iowa City store

Volunteers unload boxes of merchandise for the new Ten Thousand Villages location, which opens in October. -- photo by Lauren Shotwell
Volunteers unload boxes of merchandise for the new Ten Thousand Villages location, which opens in October. — photo by Lauren Shotwell

Volunteers gathered Monday to unpack boxes of merchandise for the new Ten Thousand Villages location opening in a few weeks on the Iowa City Ped Mall. The store, part of a national non-profit, sells fair trade goods like jewelry, home décor and tableware made by artisans around the world.

The location, 105 S. Dubuque St. between Herteen & Stocker and Textiles, will be the first permanent storefront for the organization in Iowa City and the only one in Iowa. The store officially opens Oct. 8, but organizers said they might sneak in and open a bit earlier if everything is ready.

Previous Ten Thousand Villages pop-up stores opened in the fall of 2014 and 2015. Schrock said those pop-ups were an exploration of how well a store would fare in Iowa City. The plan for a permanent storefront has been a long time in the making.

“In 2006 the dream started and the last four years have been fundraising and trying to make it a reality,” said Cindi Schrock, board president for the store, as she helped unload pallets of boxes.

Alicia Greenwood, who managed the pop-up store last year and is also on the board for the store, said many people have commented that Iowa City needed a good place to buy fair trade gifts at a variety of price points.

“Everything has a story,” said Cassidy Bell of the handcrafted items in the store. “It’s interesting the things they (the artisans) find to make art with in their environment.”

Bell, who will be the store manager, is a familiar face in Iowa City. She has worked as coordinator for the Iowa City Farmers Market and is executive director of the Iowa City-area nonprofit Local Foods Connection.

The store will be manned largely by volunteers. Organizers said they hope to recruit a team of 40 to 60 people to keep the store running smoothly. Community members interested in volunteering can visit the store’s Facebook page for more information.

Ten Thousand Villages was founded in 1946 by Edna Ruth Byler after a trip to Puerto Rico where she met women struggling to make a living selling their embroidery pieces. Byler started out selling goods out of the trunk of her car. The organization now has stores across the country.

According to its website, Ten Thousand Villages works with 20,000 artisans in 30 developing countries. In 2015, those artisans earned a collective $7.5 million through partnerships with the stores.

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