Old concept, new storefront: Chautauqua Fair Trading Company moves to new location in Colonnade

RUBY WALLAU | Staff Photographer
Lynn Young and Nancy Beeghly, visiting friends from Ohio, play singing bowls sold at the Chautauqua Fair Trading Company, newly located in the Colonnade, on Wednesday. All goods sold in the store are made by employees paid a living wage in developing countries.

Puzzle boxes, jewelry, drums, marmalade, wrap skirts — the Chautauqua Fair Trading Company store in the Colonnade might not be large, but it holds a multitude of different goods from all over the world. The wares have one thing in common: Everything has been made by people in developing countries who were paid a living wage.

The store is not new to Chautauqua Institution, but this year it will operate in a new location.

“This will be our third year,” said Adele Thomas, who primarily runs the shop. “We had two years in the original location, which was downstairs in the Colonnade, and it did very well for the location, but when we had opportunity to move into the new space, we thought it would be wise, and we could expand on our merchandise.”

The new location on the Colonnade’s main floor might also make the store accessible for more people.

“I know that this is a kind of a business — the fair trade business — that a lot of customers feel very strongly about. They will search out a place where they can search out products like that,” said Earl Rothfus, manager of the Chautauqua Bookstore. “But I think there are an awful lot of people who know something about fair trade, but maybe didn’t have that same kind of commitment, so they missed out on the opportunity that was there [with the last location].”

The fair trade store is a satellite of the bookstore, so Thomas and the other employees work in both locations.

For as long as Rothfus can remember, the bookstore has carried some fair trade goods.

With the new location, though, there is the possibility of adding new merchandise. According to Thomas, it is now the only store on the grounds that carries hammocks and kites, and many of their goods, besides being fair trade, are also organic.

“We carry a lot of organic products, organic foods, soaps, coffees, teas — things like that,” Thomas said.

Her personal favorite, though, are the magic wrap skirts.

“We sell hundreds of them every season, because they can be changed into a variety of clothing items,” Thomas said. “They are created from recycled saris, and every single one is different, so you’re a real individual if you’re wearing a magic wrap skirt.”

This expansion of fair trade at Chautauqua makes sense, Rothfus said, given that both movements grew out of similar impulses.

“Chautauqua Institution was founded really as a Christian mission with the intention of helping people to be the best people they could be,” he said. “And that’s really the origin of fair trade as well. It’s clearly not just a Christian organization, but those founding principles go to back to the idea that we all need to help each other become the best that we can be.”

This year, the shop will be running daily “more than fair” deals, which will be announced each afternoon for the following day.

Rothfus also hopes to include denominational houses in the effort to spread the word about the new store.

“We would like the people who support the basic idea of what fair trade is — and a lot of those people will be located in denominational houses — to do what they can, just by word of mouth, to spread the word of what’s going on over there,” he said.