WADENA -- It's not just a shopping experience, it's a destination.
That -- and a deepened sense of community both here and abroad -- are what supporters of The Village Emporium in downtown Wadena hope will emerge from the unique business enterprise that houses a nonprofit coffeehouse and nonprofit used clothing shop, as well as more than 40 small businesses.
The Village Emporium opened in October in the former J.C. Penney building. The building had been vacant for about four years when Carol Spearman, Rowland Joiner and David Evert bought it.
Spearman was a former director of Faith In Action and had been working on contract for Partners For A Healthy Wadena before she retired last summer. She said she remained interested in opening a business that encouraged small business start-ups while promoting global awareness.
"Think globally, act locally," is the prevailing philosophy behind everything that goes on at the 20,000-square-foot marketplace. It is not solely a money-making endeavor but a place that seeks to connect Wadena citizens with one another and their global neighbors.
Hayley Komula (right) served fair trade coffee to a customer at the Heart of the Village non-profit coffeehouse at The Village Emporium in downtown Wadena. Fair trade products are those in which the workers who produce them are fairly compensated for their work.
The 40-plus small business owners who rent space at the emporium widely vary in the goods and services they offer. There is a computer store, two bookstores, a tea shop and a variety of handcrafted items for sale, including Bolivian, Kenyan, American Indian and Amish goods.
While The Village Emporium is privately owned, the Heart of the Village coffeehouse in the former J.C. Penney shoe department is a nonprofit coffee shop that raises funds for Habitat for Humanity, Quantum Connections, International and Faith in Action, all non-profit organizations. The coffee shop uses only fair trade coffee, which means those who produced the coffee are given fair and decent wages for their work. The bread and pastries sold at the coffeehouse are locally produced and organically grown. This summer the coffeehouse will use locally grown organic vegetables in its wraps and sandwiches. The coffeehouse also recycles.
The shop holds Back Door Nights, showing independent films and hosting book readings. They are now publicly reading the late Sen. Paul Wellstone's book, "The Conscience of a Liberal." At Laura Spilman's bookstore adjacent to the coffeehouse, there is a weekly international story hour offered for children to learn more about the world in which they live. Nearby is a Peace Room, rented by The Common Ground, that has a lending library filled with peace and anti-war literature for patrons.
The Village Emporium in downtown Wadena houses about 40-plus entrepreneurs who sell their goods and services from space rented in the former J.C. Penney building. The shopping environment, which features a nonprofit coffee shop and clothing store, was developed to support both the local and international community.
"We're looking to spread the word about what we're doing here because I believe it's truly unique," said Suzanne Updike, coffeehouse manager. "We see ourselves as setting up Wadena as a destination place for people."
Entrepreneurs pay $50 a month or even less to rent space at the facility.
Kathleen Connell, who owns Redfern Farm at The Village Emporium, sells environmentally friendly gardening products and organic farming books, information that can be hard to find in many commercial stores. She also sells solar ovens, a way for people to cook food by using the sun and without electricity. The solar ovens are made of recycled plastic soda bottles and sell for $99 plus shipping and handling.
"It's a community, there's no question about that," said Connell. "I think this store gives us an opportunity to connect and support with one another. I think this is an education center. It gives us a chance to market not just things, but those with a belief system behind them."
The emporium recently opened The Quantum Closet, a nonprofit used clothing store, with help from a grant provided by the Initiative Foundation.
Spearman said Maurice's, Wadena's only clothing store, closed in January, leaving city residents without a local place to buy clothing. Thus the used clothing store was added as a way to provide residents with reasonably priced clothing. Profits from the clothing store will provide funds to ship used computers, solar ovens, food grinders, books and clothing to partner projects throughout the world. Right now the facility has dozens of old Macintosh computers ready to be shipped to Sierra Leone.
All three owners of The Village Emporium are on the board of directors for Quantum Connections, International. Spearman said she has seen firsthand the impact of helping others globally. Years ago she personally delivered three typewriters to a man in Ghana who used those typewriters to start a school in his garden. A former chicken coop in Ghana was transformed through Quantum's help into a school with six teachers who educate 120 students. Right now the organization is looking for donations of old laptop computers to ship to projects in Sierra Leone or Ecuador, said Spearman. The laptop computers don't require as much energy as other computers, she said.
The Village Emporium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday but stays open until 8 p.m. Friday nights. The Heart of the Village coffeehouse opens 7 a.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. Saturdays.
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