New Vergennes store boosts artisans
I feel it’s a lot of people walk in and say it’s the (store’s) energy they appreciate. They feel the happiness, the love, the giving back. And we always strive to build that relationship with each and every customer.
VERGENNES — “The store is a cultural emporium, with handcrafted goods around the world and the United States: fair trade, give back to the communities around the world,” said Charlene Goodell when describing the mission of Ten Stones Emporium. She and her husband, Kim, opened the Main Street store in Vergennes in July.
The store is meant to give artisans around the world the chance to profit from their work “by supplying income to people for sustainability (who are making) handmade products,” Charlene explained.
With products including dappled spinning tops, jars made out of gourds, herbs, scented candles, clothes made with vegan dyes, statues of the Buddha, shiny rocks and its very own “Zen Den,” the store has an eclectic range of items.
Ten Stones sells items made by artisans from countries including India, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru Turkey, Russia and the United States.
Charlene and her husband were inspired to focus their store on rewarding artisans around the world after trips abroad, where the couple would talk to craftspeople who felt exploited by businesses that would buy handmade products and sell them at disproportionate profits.
“We went to Mexico to the ruins of the Mayans,” Kim said, explaining an example of exploitation they hope to curb. “These people spend all day making miraculous things that are incredible. And the companies that shuttle you there don’t want you buying there; they want you buying at the store where they purchase these things.”
“These people buy all of their products and sell them at an inflated rate,” she said. “Why not pay that price to the person directly?
“There’s greed everywhere and we need to get rid of the greed.”
To prop up artisanal producers directly, the Goodells look for producers who offer high-quality products, and also make an impact in their community or environment.
“These are made out of gourds,” Charlene said, pointing at orange and yellow jars in a barrel. “They are hand-painted and processed in Peru. (The jar’s producers) give back to the village.”
Their inventory includes Guatemala and Sea grass baskets. The producer of the baskets, Mayan Hands, is a business Charlene was attracted to since it was staffed entirely of women.
Asked if she could name the store’s most popular product currently, Charlene noted brisk sales of its rock collections, which offer astrologically significant stones including amethyst and obsidian.
“The rocks fly off the shelf,” Charlene laughed. “I had to put containers out back because we ran out and that was only in a week.”
“And that’s great,” she added.
If there is a part of the store that’s faring best, it’s the backroom she calls the “Zen Den,” which specializes in spiritually oriented products including Buddha sculptures and wood-carved proverbs from assorted religions throughout the world.
“We have hand-carved Buddhas out of India, crystal spheres,” she said. “It’s been a very popular section. This is probably our most popular with the ‘younger twenties.’”
Charlene also owns the Blue Lily Clothing Company in Vergennes and has experience in accounting and retail. She plans to use her experience over the years to keep Ten Stones running in ship-shape during its first days.
“(Opening Ten Stones was) something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “This was another way that reaches me as a person to give back in this way.”
She wants to eventually travel around the world to meet each of the artisans from whom the store purchases.
Charlene reported customers so far have really appreciated not just the store’s products, but also the emporium itself.
“I feel it’s a lot of people walk in and say it’s the (store’s) energy they appreciate,” Charlene said. “They feel the happiness, the love, the giving back. And we always strive to build that relationship with each and every customer.”
Currently, the emporium’s staff consists of Charlene, Kim and one assistant — and Charlene is happy keeping the store at that size.
While she wants to keep the store small, Charlene hopes its growing customer base fully comprehends the store’s mission of helping out smaller artisans to earn the money the Goodells feel they deserve.
“Just (make) people aware of what they are buying,” Charlene said when asked about the store’s priorities. “The quality… and the way you can give back by buying a product that is handmade fair trade and actually supports those people.
“Being smaller, more mindful of that,” she added. “Get rid of the greed and get back to the people. That’s the only way we’re gonna survive.”
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