Sometimes the best things come out of a basement. First started in the basement of the Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship church during a Christmas sale in 1988, the Cincinnati branch of Ten Thousand Villages opened up an actual store located in O’Bryonville 13 years later thanks to soaring sales. Nearly 30 years since it first started, Ten Thousand Villages has two locations in the Cincinnati area, including the Harper’s Point store, which opened October 2014. 

Ten Thousand Villages is one of the world’s largest nonprofit fair trade organizations. In fact, it was the United States’ first fair trade organization and retail fair trade store. Everything in Ten Thousand Villages is handmade by artisans from more than 30 developing countries to allow them to earn income through fair trade. Darlene Rohrer-Meck, executive director of the Ten Thousand Villages locations of O’Bryonville and Harper’s Point, says, “We pay our artisans upfront. We pay them 50 percent when we place the order and the remaining 50 percent when it is ready to leave their country.” 

The artisans are paid in full before any item hits the shelves in a store. “We have a wonderful variety of home décor items, a lot of beautiful personal accessories, bath and body products, kitchen accessories and furniture—obviously a great variety, with most items in the $20-$50 range,” says Rohrer-Meck. 

At Ten Thousand Villages, Rohrer-Meck enjoys building bridges among the customer, the product and the artisan. She refers to it as, “a beautiful piece of art with a wonderful story—making such a difference for thousands of people around the world is such a satisfying part of the job.” 

Mostly staffed by volunteers, and at least two paid employees, all enjoy the privilege of teaching customers about the ethical gifts in the store and who made them.

More than just a store, these two locations also host events for fun and also fundraising purposes. “Local nonprofits can schedule a shopping day in the store and encourage their supporters to shop that day. A portion of all the sales is donated back to that organization,” says Rohrer-Meck.

Ten Thousand Villages also has an event held annually which happens to be their largest event of the year—their five-day Rug Event. “Over 400 hand-knotted rugs of all sizes come to the store for five days, giving customers a chance to purchase a high-quality rug made by a fairly paid adult,” says Rohrer-Meck. 

What’s special about the Cincinnati locations in particular is that these two stores are the only Ten Thousand Villages stores that have two locations and one nonprofit board. “We are one organization with two locations. About 75 percent of our product you can find at either store and then each store has unique items that are not found in the other store. This keeps it interesting for customers who like to shop at both stores,” says Rohrer-Meck.