Friday, November 30, 2012
Our whole lives we’ve known one formula for a successful holiday season: be good, get gifts.
But a handful of stores are tweaking that age-old wisdom into give gifts, do good.
Merely shopping at one of these unique boutiques allows you to support the local economy, help disadvantaged people find gainful employment and sometimes even donate to a worthy cause.
You’re going to shop anyway this month — why not let your dollar pull double duty at one of these five stores?
201 Frazier Avenue, 423-756-8633 • Open 5 years
A fair-trade emporium offering clothing, shoes, jewelry, scarves, home accessories and handbags from around the world.
Owner Sherra Lewis’ favorite story of her store’s impact involves a pregnant woman on the streets of Peru trying to survive by selling jewelry. Go Fish founder Curt Coleman recognized her talent and commissioned her to make a few pieces for him. Today she not only makes earrings exclusively for Go Fish’s 13 locations, she’s been able to hire five other women to help. For 25 years Go Fish has been forming partnerships like this all over the world.
Sherra and her husband, Steve, brought this fair-trade franchise to Chattanooga’s North Shore in 2007. Both were in a time of transition in their careers and looking for something they could do together. Today Steve manages behind the scenes while Sherra enjoys daily interactions with customers. “It’s rewarding the relationships I’ve been able to build with customers – customer service is our primary goal,” she says. “Some days my husband will call and ask how the store’s doing. I’ll say, ‘We haven’t sold a thing but I’ve had some great conversations!’”
All around the store framed pictures feature the stories of Go Fish artisans, like Loisa Bangbum, who oversees the production of all batik print clothing, exclusively designed and produced for Go Fish. New goods arrive every two weeks, so you’re sure to always find something new.
110 Main Street, 423-521-4707 • Open 2 years
An art gallery offering paintings, drawings, sculpture and other pieces by homeless or other disadvantaged artists.
For the holiday season they also feature Christmas ornaments, cards and other original gifts for under $10.
The idea to open The HART Gallery was like a lightening strike for owner Ellen Heavilon. “It was like the skies opened up and I remember thinking, ‘Something’s happening here,’” she recalls as she stood in front of Frances McDonald’s “Homes” obelisk, a collection of tiles painted by homeless people. “There’s a lot of talent in an invisible community and I wanted to bring it to light.”
The next day she gathered some art supplies to take to the Community Kitchen. Two months later, she and her husband bought an abandoned building on Main Street and in late 2010, they opened the doors. For every item sold the artist gets 60 percent, the gallery gets 30, then 10 percent goes to a nonprofit of the artist’s choice to reinforce a pay-it-forward mentality.
Thanks to her efforts, several homeless artists have been able to get into public housing because they can show income. Physically and mentally handicapped people at places like Signal Centers have been given a creative outlet and boosted confidence. And buyers are able to collect original artwork for a much lower price tag (average $50-$200). “I never realized how involved I would get with each artist’s lives,” says Ellen. “It’s almost become a community center that also happens to be an art gallery.”
48 East Main Street, 423-400-4100 • Open 2 years
A non-profit community space selling fair-trade or locally made jewelry, home accessories, children’s toys, clothing, paintings, sculpture and more.
Walking into Planet Altered, you might think you’ve stumbled upon yet another eclectic shop on Main Street. But the brightly colored gallery is “far from ordinary.” The front is packed with unique home and fashion items, such as tiny cinnamon boxes ($10.50) carved from cinnamon wood and carrying a hint of that trademark smell. But peek around the partition and you’re greeted with a workspace/art gallery with pieces on the wall like “East to West” ($20,000), a bronze sculpture by local artist Barry Snyder, a former Imagineer for Disney.
Whatever you’re searching for, manager Jean Huddleston will usually offer you a cup of coffee as you browse. Or you can sit at the table and chairs to create your own art with JumpstART, which features a different project each week for $2. The back room also serves as a meeting space for local organizations or a classroom for local artists, with teachers keeping 80 percent of class fees. “Planet Altered is here for the people,” explains Jean.
Items come from every corner of the world, including many from Chattanooga artists. Director Linda Sines handles the buying, bringing in Huddleston “before the paint dried” to manage day-to-day operations.
From the beginning they’ve strived to be more than a store. “When someone walks through our door, I want them to know I’m someone who really wants to hear about their day. I truly care about what’s going on in their life. Where else do you find that in today’s busy world?”
113 Frazier Avenue, 423-475-6566 • Open 4 years
A family shoe shop that’s recently expanded into clothing. Everything sold either has a philanthropic business model or focuses on worldly manufacturing.
If the shoe doesn’t fit, open your own store. Alison Songer got the idea for N2 Shoes shortly after a failed shopping expedition with her husband in their new hometown. They’d moved from Atlanta and were surprised not to find a family shoe store in the downtown area. She set about opening her own outfit but with one key difference – every item must have a story.
She was the first to bring pay-it-forward vendor Toms to town, and has since expanded to include companies like Sseko, which helps African women out of poverty. Raven + Lily, a jewelry line offering charm bracelets made from melted bullet casings, donates proceeds toward HIV-positive women and children in Ethiopia.
Not all vendors have a philanthropic business model, but all focus on worldly manufacturing (read: not made in China). Songer is particularly thrilled when she can help a customer with foot problems find comfortable yet cute shoes. Some of her brands like podiatrist-founded Orthaheel will buy back any pair you’re not completely satisfied with.
“People can buy stuff anywhere, but I think the fact that I put a lot of thought and energy into each vendor makes it more from the heart,” she says, especially considering she carries 54 brands and more than 6,000 products. Even the name has special meaning, referencing the fable of Goodie Two Shoes, an orphan who only had one shoe until a wealthy man bought her a pair. The gift changed her life and she went on to help others. Adopted at 2 weeks old, Songer feels she too was given opportunities that she now looks to pass on to others.
4121 Hixson Pike, 423-468-4278 • Open 1 year
An artist-owned shop featuring furniture, clothing, jewelry and home accessories from artists in every corner of the world, including Chattanooga.
Owner Victoria York follows a simple motto when selecting items for her Hixson shop: do no harm. Every business she works with follows ethical and sustainable practices, from the organic bamboo bathrobe to the Feed the Hungry mints, a company that delivers seven meals to needy U.S. families for every tray sold. And while many items are sourced from developing countries, York goes far beyond the fair-trade model. Every time her cash register rings, a portion goes to local organizations like the Chattanooga Area Food Bank and McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center, meaning she helps others on both ends of transactions.
What’s more, York keeps prices intentionally low in hopes of giving everyone access to beautiful, custom pieces. Because of her strong relationship with each artist, many items can be custom ordered. Prices range from $2 to $200, but the majority of items are under $50.
The idea to open began when York and her husband relocated from New Jersey. She had gained a loyal following for her hand-painted furniture and was considering opening her own shop when she realized she could support other artists while trying to support herself, all while helping organizations for which she felt passionate. “There are a tremendous amount of people who care where their money goes, and I think eventually everybody will,” she says. “There’s a growing recognition that we’re a world community, not a tiny town.”