Reed Books is a bookstore in downtown Birmingham. With a residency of several decades, it has become a staple of the community. While people come from all over the world to view the thousands of books that line the shelves and the floors, there is much more to this bookstore than just the books. While Mr. Jim Reed, owner of Reed Books, will want to greet you with a smile, there are more faces that will welcome you into the store. Take a look…
Just about everyone likes to receive a special gift.
With WorldCrafts, the Fair Trade division of the Woman’s Missionary Union, giving a special gift can feel as good as getting one.
“Our goal is to develop sustainable, Fair Trade businesses among impoverished people across the world,” said Emily Swader, the Marketing Strategist for WorldCrafts. ”Through purchasing WorldCrafts products, you can really change the life of someone.”
The organization started in 1996 with only one artisan group from Bangkla, Thailand. Today, WorldCrafts works with more than 60 artisan groups in 30 countries – offering dignity and eternal hope to each individual in every group.
“Everything we have is handmade,” Swader said. Each product also comes with a card with the maker’s picture and story on it.
But in a world that seems to be Fair Trade-crazed, what exactly makes WorldCrafts different?
“What sets WorldCrafts apart is that we are not only interested in people having that sustainable living income, we’re interested in them having eternal hope,” Swader said.
And because the WMU’s national headquarters are located here in Birmingham down Highway 280, local shoppers don’t even have to leave the city limits to change the life of a person thousands of miles away.
Mary Holland Novkov received a set of wooden coasters from WorldCrafts as a hostess gift from an in-town friend.
“They are a really great conversation starter,” Novkov said. “Every time people come over they ask about them and I get to explain their story.”
With several product categories including home décor, stationary and women’s accessories, similar stories from all over the world are waiting to be told.
The most popular items from WorldCrafts include nativities from around the world, ethnic jewelry and scarves made out of recycled sari’s from India.
From left to right, popular WorldCrafts products include a nativity scene (Jerusalem — Bethlehem Carvers, $39.99), a stationary set (India — Ergon Handicrafts, $14.99) and a scarf (India — Village Artisans, $34.99).
WorldCrafts products are mainly available for purchase online, through catalogue or locally at the gift shop located at the WMU’s national headquarters.
Individuals and churches are also encouraged to host WorldCrafts parties where guests can pick up catalogues of items available for purchase and learn more about WorldCrafts’ mission. Free party ideas and themes can be found on the WorldCrafts website.
“Thousands of parties are hosted every year,” Swader said.
For more information about hosting a WorldCrafts party or about how to purchase WorldCrafts merchandise, visit http://worldcrafts.org/.
By Sarah Anne Elliott
Photos courtesy of WorldCrafts
In a culture filled with Wal-Marts and free shipping, people who enjoy supporting small businesses may have a hard time spotting them among all the familiar logos and super sales. However, 18th Street in Homewood is far from the usual.
18th Street has been around for more than 100 years. It’s a street known for its small businesses and out-of-the-ordinary merchandise.
But what really makes 18th Street so special is its ability to thrive in this age of consumerism that emphasizes quantity over quality.
Business owners on 18th Street give a lot of credit to the community. Linda Strickland, the owner of Ambiance, a store that displays a wide variety of unique home décor and fashion, says that Homewood customers and their concern for the city’s economy make the difference.
“We’re fortunate to be in Homewood because Homewood is an area that has a very dedicated shopping base,” Strickland says. “They prefer to shop in a local store. They’re not looking to save a dollar by buying the products online.”
That sense of community unites not only shoppers, but also store owners.
“Every business strives for their own unique footprint,” says Allen Bailey, manager of Seasons to Celebrate. “Nobody tries to copy what anybody else is doing. And everyone tries to offer their customer value for what they’re purchasing.”
Although offering that value while still turning a profit can be a challenge for small business owners, the shop owners of 18th Street feel that because of the Homewood community, they are up to the challenge.
“We can’t compete with the big retailers because we can’t offer the deep discounts that they can,” Bailey says. “However, people in Homewood want to support the community and they will come to 18th Street to do that.”
Photos by Kaitlin Bitz
Caroline Bradford began her love affair with antiques sometime during a childhood spent looking through her grandmother’s attic. “I’ve always loved old things,” the Birmingham native and mother of three said.
It was that pleasure for the old-fashion that lead her to start Mulberry Heights Antiques. The small business sits along Canterbury Road in Mountain Brook Village. Cars and foot traffic are frequent as they pass by. The elegant store is one of many in the area and attracts visitors from all over the region.
Nearly eleven years has passed since Bradford first started her antiques store. What began as a childhood fascination with decorating lead her 18 years ago to start an interior design business with a friend. From there eventually became what is now Mulberry Heights. Bradford found having her own business outside of her home much easier and enjoyable.
“The fact that when you’re helping personal clients it’s so time consuming and you can’t leave it it’s always something you’re thinking about I just know that I’d rather have a retail shop and still sell and work with beautiful things.” The store first opened in a small house in Cahaba Heights, not originally in Mountain Brook. Bradford says that after a while they discovered that Cahaba was at the time, “Off the beaten path.” Only then when the store was moved to Mountain Brook did her business begin to pick up and sell more.
And its that same environment that she sees as so important to the benefit of Mulberry Heights. “Mountain Brook is just a true destination place,” she says. Her business holds many of the things one would always find in an elegant antique shop but is known famously for its hand-painted Mulberry China found all throughout the store.
While having the store in Mountain Brook has been wonderful for business there was in Mulberry Heights a concern that being in an area such as Mountain Brook might be as Bradford puts it “intimidating.” “It’s getting better. Definitely several years ago that was a real thing we had to try to get over.” The concern of a fancy antiques store intimidating potential customers has not been a problem for Bradford’s business.
She believes very strongly that Mountain Brook has worked hard to be more inviting and overcome an old money stigma. “When you get personal with the businesses I think that really helps and makes other people see that this is just like anywhere else.”
And that personal touch has translated into a successful operation that appeals to all kinds of customers, especially through advertising. Bradford credits the company’s website along with their Facebook page as helping to branch out and reach more people.
Walking through the store one can find a rich variety of items all shipped from overseas. Many come from France where Bradford and her husband have visited often.
Customers who visit the store find it to be quiet and inviting. And while most are normally from the Mountain Brook area, some occasionally defy such a mold. One recent buyer included a former producer for the program “7th Heaven.” A sign that Mulberry Heights, like its antiques, can stay a part of Mountain Brook, while reaching beyond it.