Ground Floor: Success with pop-ups motivates permanent Iowa City location

Ten Thousand Villages opens store in downtown Iowa City

Stephen Mally/The Gazette

Various fair trade items are offered for sale at Ten Thousand Villages, 105 S. Dubuque St. in Iowa City. The not-for-profit fair trade organization sells handcrafted products from artists in about 30 developing countries.
Stephen Mally/The Gazette Various fair trade items are offered for sale at Ten Thousand Villages, 105 S. Dubuque St. in Iowa City. The not-for-profit fair trade organization sells handcrafted products from artists in about 30 developing countries.

IOWA CITY — After finding success in holiday pop-up stores the last two years, a fair trade organization opened a permanent location in Iowa City this month.

Located on South Dubuque Street, the newest Ten Thousand Village shop held its grand opening on Oct. 8 that drew about 500 customers, said Cassidy Bell, manager of the Iowa City location.

The 900-square-foot space on the Pedestrian Mall houses a contract store of Ten Thousand Villages, a not-for-profit, fair trade organization that sells handcrafted products from artists in about 30 developing countries. Bell said the products include items such as picture frames made of bike chains from India or jewelry made from bomb castings from Cambodia.

The organization has more than 70 stores across the United States and Canada.

Ten Thousand Villages initially came to Iowa City as a pop-up store in 2014 from November to December, Bell said. A second pop-up opened for the holidays the following year.

“We used those as fundraisers and to test the market to see if people in Iowa City were interested in Ten Thousand Villages and if it would be able to hold its own,” Bell said.

Both pop-ups were a success, she said, and helped establish the organization among residents before the store opened this month.

As a contract store, Bell is obliged to stock 80 percent of her store with Ten Thousand Village merchandise. However, she does work with seven other vendors to sell their handmade products, including Equal Exchange, Under the Nile and Conscious Step.

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Bell said she came into the fold in August, and was hired as the store manager — the only paid staff member in Ten Thousand Villages. The store is staffed by about 30 volunteers who are asked to work at least eight hours each month. Bell said she hopes to take on more volunteers to bring her staff up to 60 in the near future.

For now, Bell said her biggest concern is keeping customers coming after the holiday season.

“I think that a lot of people would be expecting us to go away after Christmas,” she said. “Just from short conversations I’ve had with other managers, established stores have that problem of people coming in during Christmas and don’t come back until next Christmas.”

Those wanting to volunteer can email iowacity@tenthousandvillages.com or by visiting the store.

At a glance:

• Business: Ten Thousand Villages

• Store Manager: Cassidy Bell

• Address: 105 S Dubuque St., Iowa City

• Phone: (319) 519-2104

• Website: tenthousandvillages.com

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