A venerable Niagara-on-the-Lake retail institution will be closing its doors for good at the end of May.
The Queen Street location of Ten Thousand Villages is one of 10 remaining company-owned stores that will be shuttered as the operations of the 74-year-old organization wind down this spring. The decision by the parent organization, the Mennonite Central Committee Canada (MCC), will also see the closure of the Ten Thousand Villages webstore and its distribution centre in Hamburg, Ontario.
In a press release from last week, the decision is blamed on a challenging retail environment that left the company unable to achieve the level of sales that would continue to provide it with the ability to operate a sustainable business model.
The news from head office did not come as a shock to local store manager Teresa Friesen. She says the company had been struggling for a number of years, and with online shopping becoming a bigger factor, it was difficult for Ten Thousand Villages to keep up.
“We saw a drop in traffic, and we definitely saw a drop in sales this past Christmas season,” says Friesen. She adds that sales were even more significantly down last summer, with visitors to the store falling by 20 to 30 per cent in comparison to 2018.
Friesen is one of six paid employees who will be looking for work in the four months remaining before the store closes for good. As well, about 25 volunteers will be left to find another way to contribute to the community.
Ten Thousand Villages opened in 1986 at the back of the old Andres Cleaners building at 126 Queen Street. The dream of Katy Ewert got underway as an MCC Self Help Crafts Store. Its mission from the start was to help provide employment and fair income to disadvantaged people in more than 25 developing countries.
Five years later, the store moved to a location on Market Street, and in 1997, it was rebranded as Ten Thousand Villages. After two more stops, one on Victoria Street and another on Queen, the store settled in at 46 Queen Street in 2011.
Through the years, Ten Thousand Villages has been steadfast in its commitment to offering a globally-friendly product line, featuring hand-crafted jewellery, home decor made of natural materials, and food and skin care products that are earth-friendly. For many NOTL residents, the store has been a go-to location to shop with a clear conscience, as their advertising tag-line once stated.
For Bed and Breakfast operator Jodie Godwin, Ten Thousand Villages has been a part of her life since she moved to NOTL from Western Canada. She heard the news late last week as she visited the store to buy coffee for her guests.
Godwin and her family believe strongly in the fair trade concept, and promote conscious buying to their guests. Being able to purchase fair trade products at the Ten Thousand Villages store has been a convenient way to ensure she can continue to uphold these values in her business. She will now have to find another source for fair trade products.
“Ten Thousand Villages is the largest fair trade retailer in Canada,” says store manager Friesen. “The over 20,000 artisans that we support now don’t have an outlet (for their products).”
Friesen has faith that these artisans will find an outlet. “I know Ten Thousand Villages Canada is working their hardest with our artisan groups to help them link up with other fair trade retailers across the world to help them out as we shut down,” she adds. “But it’s something that’s definitely going to be felt on that end.”
The uniqueness of the NOTL location, with people from all over the world visiting the store, has given the volunteers and employees the chance to spread the message to many far-flung locations. Friesen hopes they have planted the seed and that these tourists will look for other places to track down fair trade items.
One positive on that front is that the Ten Thousand Villages store in Port Colborne will remain open. That location is owned and operated by a private board, and is independent of the national company. There are seven of these stores across the country, including another in Coburg, Ontario, that will not close.
As well, the Ten Thousand Villages U.S. webstore will remain open. Friesen says customers who are looking to purchase fair trade products will, for the first time, be able to order from the American website.
As her three years of managing the store come to an end this May 29, Friesen is, of course, feeling sad. But she, her staff and volunteers will continue to spread the fair trade message in the time they have left.