Many people probably don’t pay attention to the small specialty stores sprinkled in and around the Fox Cities. Why bother when there are large department stores that offer one-stop shopping? After all, it’s hard to find one place that sells mascara, cat litter, tomatoes and the new season of the Walking Dead on DVD (this was last weeks shopping list), especially when I’m short on time. But ultimately, is it reallyshorter on time? The parking, walking, lines, even leaving the parking lot, sometimes feels a lot like street racing as we dodge pedestrians, minivans and run-away carts. Then we have wait in line for the slowest stop-light ever created to finally turn green while 50 other cars coming from different directions try to merge in line with us. In the end I think the idea of having saved time is really just an illusion. So what about these small locally-owned shops?
This next part may seem a bit off topic, but bear with me. I have always had really small hands. Not a big deal, but when it comes to finding gloves, it’s pretty much a losing battle. There is always too much material on the end of my fingers when I wear gloves. Mittens encase all of my fingers and prevent me from being able to use my hands so I don’t even bother with them.
Vagabond Imports is located on College Avenue in Appleton
That is until I shared a class with a girl at school who had the coziest looking pair of gloves I had ever seen. They were handmade, woven mittens, with individual finger compartments but the tops were cut off. Like the kind of gloves you see professional bicyclists or UFC fighters wearing, except these were soft and knitted on the outside with a fleece lining on the inside. To put the icing on the cake, there was a flap that covered the exposed fingertips as needed for when you are outside in the cold. We all know how hard it is to turn a doorknob or find keys in a purse while wearing soft, slippery material over our feelers. This way I don’t have to take off the whole glove. These were the gloves of my dreams. (I guess you can tell that I don’t dream very big!)
I asked her where she got these and she told me a small shop in Downtown Appleton called Vagabond Imports. She added, “I love them because they still smell like that store, too.” I took a whiff and could smell the incense embedded deep within the fibers of the gloves. “I bought them months ago,” she said.
mural behind Vagabond Imports
I decided I would have to visit this store. My only intention was to find these amazing handmade mitten/gloves. However when I entered the store I was surprised to find so much more. They had clothes, hats, scarves, Buddha figurines, backpacks, soap, China flats and jewelry, all handmade and encased in an enticing aroma of spiced incense. I spoke with the sales clerk who informed me that this location had been there for 15 years. Everyone who works in this shop has been there since it opened, with her being the exception. The items sold in the store were fair trade and helped support people in other parts of the world that desperately need it. The gloves I purchased were made from Alpaca wool in Nepal. I decided to get another pair as a gift and purchased a gift bag, made from old, recycled, foreign newspapers from a display next to the register. The gift bags were made and sold to support a group of young boys living in poverty in another country. The meager earnings helped feed and clothe them.
It’s quite heartwarming to hear how one small purchase can have a positive ripple effect that reaches halfway across the world. The lady at the counter was so informed on where the items in the store came from and said the biggest thing the people who work in the store are proud of is how they have been able to see the families in the community grow and flourish. Who knew these small shops could have such a huge and positive effect on the world around them? Glad I could be apart of it!
Local shopaholics, where in the Fox Cities do you go to buy fair trade items? Is that important to you? Leave a comment below!
—By Sonia Zimmerman