Regina’s only source for fair trade handcrafted items will close on April 6.
Employees and volunteers at Ten Thousand Villages, located on University Park Drive, were informed in February that it wasn’t financially feasible to keep the store running.
“I’m heartbroken. I’ve been volunteering here since I was 14,” said five-year volunteer Micheala Balkwill. “It’s really sad to see it go. It’s sad because we don’t have any other stores like this in Regina, so I think it’ll be a really big loss for the city.”
Assistant manager Alicia Miller explained that the store’s 10-year lease was up for renegotiation this year. Five years ago, the store moved to a larger location within the strip mall where it is currently located.
“When it came up again for renewal they wanted quite a substantial increase. It was almost double, and as a nonprofit, we can’t afford such a hefty increase in rent,” Miller said. “It wasn’t financially feasible for head office to spend more expenses to move us since the company as a whole has been running a zero budget kind of deficit for the past couple of years.”
The store is part of the Ten Thousand Villages non-profit organization and is the only fair trade store in Regina that sells handcrafted items from around the world.
For Balkwill, working at the store has been a learning experience.
“…I love this store and everything it stands for. I wouldn’t take a job in a retail place that pays close to minimum wage if I didn’t believe in what it did. It’s also a shame to see a store go in a capital of a province that’s supposed to have the fastest growing economy in Canada.” – Alicia Miller
“I learn a lot working here,” she said. “I learn about fair trade, I learn about different ways of marketing, selling, producing; there’s lots to learn here I’m really sad it’s closing.”
With Ten Thousand Villages soon to be gone in Regina, customers must either shop online or travel to the location in Saskatoon to purchase the fair trade items that the company has to offer.
Miriam Anderson, a resident of Esterhazy, shops at Ten Thousand Villages approximately once each year. She said very few places offer fair trade items.
Anderson often purchases handcrafted items as a way to give artisans “from underdeveloped countries an opportunity to get a leg up.”
“There’s such beautiful, unique things, so I usually buy gifts for people,” Anderson said.
When Anderson learned that the store was closing down she was relieved to hear she would still be able to purchase items online, although nothing replaces being able to shop in an actual store.
“I prefer to go into a store so you can actually handle the item, you don’t know what you’re getting online,” she said.
The Regina location currently has two employees, a manager and an assistant manager, Miller said. The store also has a handful of volunteers.
Miller has been an employee at Ten Thousand Villages for approximately three years. She started off in a part-time position, which eventually turned into an assistant manager position in September 2012.
“It’s really hard because I’m in an employment position,” she said. “I just think that it’s very unfortunate that the official response [of head office] is that, ‘It’s just business.’ When I started out four years ago as a volunteer, I was under the impression that we weren’t just another business. That’s another thing that’s really upset me because I love this store and everything it stands for. I wouldn’t take a job in a retail place that pays close to minimum wage if I didn’t believe in what it did. It’s also a shame to see a store go in a capital of a province that’s supposed to have the fastest growing economy in Canada.”
Miller added that if enough customers let the head office know that a Ten Thousand Villages location would be valued in Regina, a store could be brought back to a smaller space sometime in the future.
“We’ve had a lot of [customers] calling and protesting and voicing their concerns,” Miller said. “It’s definitely a presence that’s wanted in our community and it’s something that I think people are willing to fight for…Maybe they’ll reconsider in a few years.”
Photo by Kristen McEwen