Bookstore offers special discount to support Ten Thousand Villages

Chautauqua Bookstore employee Lissa VanDewark stocks items in the Ten Thousand Villages section of the bookstore Thursday afternoon. Photo by Michelle Kanaar.

Joanna Hamer | Staff Writer

Profits from the money spent at the Chautauqua Bookstore directly pay for the Institution’s programming costs. When the bookstore sells products from Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit, fair trade company, the money made supports artisans in developing countries and helps to improve their lives and communities.

Earl Rothfus, bookstore manager, brought in the fair trade products seven years ago, and after the first year, he gave the crafts a prominent section under the Ten Thousand Villages flag.

“One of the reasons that it resonates with people who come to Chautauqua so much is that the people who come here, much more than most, have a very strong awareness of everything that’s happening out there all around the planet,” Rothfus said. “The things we get from (the nonprofit) are good items, attractive items that are nicely made, and they provide a social and economic benefit.”

Having worked in retail all his life, he noticed a growing fair trade presence at retail fairs he attended, and became very interested in the idea.

Ten Thousand Villages is one of the founding members of the World Fair Trade Organization. It ensures the livelihood of its member cooperatives and artisans by paying them cash advances and establishing fair prices and long-term relationships with them.

“That money goes back to the co-op, and the co-op can do a couple of different things with it,” Rothfus said. “They can pay the artisans a little bit more than they would usually get paid, or they can take the money and use it to subsidize different social programs, whether it’s education or vocational training.”

It also supports environmental awareness and eco-friendly production techniques among its producers in 38 countries.

All Ten Thousand Villages items have tags attached stating where and by whom the product was made, which Rothfus said helps to put a face to global economics.

The bookstore sets the prices on all its other products, to create revenue for the Institution, but it agrees on Ten Thousand Villages’ prices in order to ensure that money gets to the artisans.

When Rothfus promotes the fair trade merchandise, he notices it sells better than other promoted products.

He plans to expand both his Ten Thousand Villages orders and other fair trade items, and he would love to see the Institution devote a space to selling only fair trade merchandise. The silk, wool and alpaca scarves are popular, and children love to play with the musical instruments in the bookstore.

“If there is anything else that I would like to do other than work here at Chautauqua,” Rothfus said, “it would be to try and find some sort of job with a company like (Ten Thousand Villages), because it would be fascinating to get exposure to everything from all around the world.”

This week, Ten Thousand Villages’ stock is part of a special offer. The prices will not be lower, to preserve the artisans’ wages, but buying any Ten Thousand Villages merchandise gives 25 percent off any Chautauqua-brand clothing item.

“Any little thing that we can do to help,” Rothfus said. “Hopefully, all those little things help to create something bigger for the craftsmen and women with aspirations for a better life.”