- By Laura Gallup
Two decades ago, a group of Ithacans hatched a plan to start a fair trade business downtown. After a three-month trial, the store had a permanent spot on the Ithaca Commons. Originally operating as Ten Thousand Villages, it became a local, independent store under the name One World Market. But the mission always remained the same – to provide a market for fair trade gifts made by artisans around the world. In 2020 One World Market is celebrating their 20th year fulfilling this mission.
The store carries jewelry, clothing, accessories, home goods, musical instruments and crafts from every continent. They're known for their colorful displays and great customer service. Store manager Curt Bayer has been with the store for 20 years, and said that the mission of the store resonates with his personal values.
"It's a good feeling working for Ithaca's only 100% Fair Trade store," said Bayer. "The companies we work with source products from 35 different countries. Those artisans are members of fair trade cooperatives, which not only pay fair wages - but also protect the environment and ensure safe working conditions."
The idea for the store came from Dick Adams, a longtime Ithaca bookstore owner. It was originally part of the Ten Thousand Villages franchise, of a global leader in fair trade. It was one of 80 stores around the country that shared a mission to help artisans in developing nations earn a fair wage. The store was quickly embraced by the Ithaca community and has grown into a vibrant place of business that enjoys strong loyalty and good will from new and returning shoppers.
On top of selling fair trade goods, the store is also a registered non-profit. The whole operation is run by a volunteer board of directors and a small staff. The profits from the store are used to pay the staff a living wage and donated to many local raffles, auctions and fundraisers.
Dave Blanton has been a board member with OWM since 2016. He said that in addition to offering a marketplace for artisans, the store sometimes provides them with small loans.
"We support artisans around the world through kiva.org," said Blanton. "It's a nonprofit organization that administers micro loans. These small loans of $50 to $100 provide artisans with the materials they need. Most don't have access to banks or other sources of money."
In February of 2014 the business was renamed One World Market. It had become clear that in order to keep growing and help more people around the globe, the store would need to strike out on its own. After much deliberation, the store's board voted in favor of independence, while still maintaining a strong relationship with Ten Thousand Villages. This shift allowed the store to source goods from more fair trade companies and to have greater control over the look of the store.
Since then the store has grown and continues to add new wholesalers to their shelves each year. Bayer said that interacting customers and talking about the beautiful items is one of the best parts of the job.
"It's been a delight meeting so many people over the last two decades," said Bayer. "The Ithaca community has supported our store so well through the years. People come here from all over the country now and its fun sharing stories of our products with them."
As with many other Ithaca businesses, the pandemic has had a big impact on revenue for OWM. The store was closed for three months in the spring, but the time was put to good use. The store was cleared out, repainted, redesigned and restocked for reopening in June.
"We felt that this was a good time to step back and get ready for reopening," said Blanton. "But we were worried whether people would return in the same numbers as before. Thankfully, they did, joined by many out-of-towners who came to Ithaca this year. 2021 will definitely be another lean year, but we're making it thanks to our great Ithaca supporters."
2020 has been a time of change for the store. They created an online shopping platform for the first time and recently unveiled a new logo. This winter Blanton said they will be working on expanding the website for easier shopping.
"We feel good that people have continued to support us in this difficult time," said Blanton. "And we feel that our 21st year will be the beginning of another 20 years of bringing beautiful, ethically-sourced gifts to our hometown from around the world."
Beginning December 14th, One World Market has special holiday hours, open every day 11:00AM - 8:00PM. They are also running a 20% off sale in honor of their 20th year, on all full-price necklaces and bracelets. The sale runs until Christmas.