Conscience-raising shopping 

It takes Ten Thousand Villages.

BOWLED OVER: By Ten Thousand Villages.
  • BOWLED OVER: By Ten Thousand Villages.
I have just polished off about 600 calories worth of dark chocolate and almonds, and I feel fanTASTIC. No, it’s not because of chocolate’s famed mood-enhancing powers. I long ago developed too high a tolerance to be affected that way. This particular chocolate bar, organic and king-sized, was produced with cocoa grown by small farmers in Peru and/or the Dominican Republic. They sold it to a company called Equal Exchange, which seeks to better those farmers’ lives by establishing a long-term trade relationship with them and paying them a “fair price” — more than they’d get from selling it on the conventional market. Where to get such a feel-good product, you ask? I picked mine up at opening day for Ten Thousand Villages, the newest retail face in the River Market. I’ve mentioned the store briefly in this column before, but now that it’s open, I’m putting it front and center. And not just because of the good it does some of humanity’s “least of these.” The Clinton Avenue store is crammed full of cool, funky, beautiful, intricate, whimsical, functional merchandise from around the world. I’m not just talking about carved gewgaws that have no purpose other than sitting on a shelf looking pretty, although there are plenty of those. The store has a lot of stuff you can actually put into use around your home, even if you’re not especially into the ethnic or “world” look. I was drawn to the half-dozen or so different sets of table linens — coordinating tablecloths, napkins and placemats — in a variety of color schemes. My favorites were the aquatic-blue-and-green stripes set and an Asian-look set of sage green with a black border and Chinese calligraphy. There is some furniture, too, from inlaid-wood side tables to a split-bamboo patio set to a $650 four-panel carved wood screen. It’s a great place to look for gifts as well. I saw an exquisite beaded-silk-covered, hand-made paper wedding album for $65 that made me wish I knew someone getting married soon. For more playful occasions, I’d pick a push-toy of two figures riding a tandem bicycle ($24) — the guy in the back seat bangs on a metal drum as you push it along. For the fashion-minded, there are beaded purses, beautiful silk scarves, and some really interesting jewelry, such as a hollow silver bangle bracelet ($99) made by nomadic Tuareg silversmiths in Niger using a centuries-old technique. There’s a little sand from the Sahara inside the bracelet, so it can double as a soft maraca. A word about the Ten Thousand Villages chain: It’s run by the Mennonite Central Committee, which is the relief and development arm of the Mennonite church. They operate around the world, seeking out unemployed or underemployed craftspeople who have the skills to create gorgeous things, usually working at home, out of raw materials that are close at hand. “The primary criteria is who you are, not what you make,” said Doug Dirks, Ten Thousand Villages’ marketing director. The company currently works with crafts-people in 33 countries, he said, in groups ranging from four to 6,000 people. The Little Rock store is the 68th in the United States, and there are another 38 in Canada. Tyler Denton, who works for the Clinton Foundation, initially contacted Ten Thousand Villages, Dirks said. The company was drawn to Little Rock because of the interest it perceived folks here had in international development, and because of the high number of visitors we’re getting downtown thanks to the Clinton library and other attractions. “So far, it looks like that’ll work out,” Dirks said as a steady stream of shoppers came through the store on opening day. One last note — other than two managers, the store’s staff is all volunteer, and they’re still looking for help. ? In other news: • So, Shoe Me and Judy C. Martin Tablewear are switching places. Well, almost. Judy C. Martin has already moved from its location on North Grant Street in the Heights to the space right next to So, Shoe Me in the Pleasant Valley Plaza shopping center on Rodney Parham in West Little Rock. Sometime this month, the shoe store will be moving into Judy C. Martin’s old space on North Grant. • The Heights merchants association is putting on a bridal fair/fashion show called “Heights of Style” from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, June 12, at the Peabody. It’s a bit pricier than the big January bridal fair at the Statehouse Convention Center, but the $20 ticket price benefits the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. • There’s a new addition to the Riverdale home-decorating district, a store called Lamp Works in the warehouse row in front of Cajun’s Wharf, co-owned by Stewart Lee and Charles King. They design custom lamps and shades, and repair and restore lamps and chandeliers. The hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. • And for you wild-child Eurotrash types, the Triumph motorcycle dealership on Asher Avenue now carries Vespas, those cute little Italian scooter/mo-ped things. No word on whether the options package includes a hunky guy named Paolo. Ciao, bella! shoppingchick@arktimes.com

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