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Wednesday, January 15,2014

New In Town

Kirabo Fair Trade/Old Town Businesses

by ALLAN I. ROSS
After six-and-a-half years of selling fair trade items at Kirabo, her store in East Lansing, owner/operator Gail Catron is selling the business.

But it’s not for a lack of commerce.

“Kirabo has been growing continually since we opened,” she said. “We started with six suppliers, expanded to 26 and we’ve got over 4,000 customers in our customer list. I’m just ready to do something else. I also need more weekend free time.”

The fair trade industry helps producers in developing countries to make better trading conditions and promote sustainability. Kirabo carries a wide range of merchandise, including art, jewelry, toys, lamps, clothing and coffee.

The artisans she buys from come from the worst parts of the world and are working hard on their craft. “We pay much higher rates than if they sold it where they live. We’re making a difference in the world, and we’ve educated many people on authentic fair trade. It feels good knowing that some people have shifted some of their shopping because of us. Every week, two or three people thank me that they can buy things not made in a factory.”

Catron hopes to sell before her lease expires at the end of April. She said the business will go for $50,000, but the merchandise will sell separately. (She has about $30,000 in inventory, but that should go down over the next two months.)

So what kind of person would make a good successor?

“Someone who understands and is passionate about fair trade and wants to work in a retail store,” she said. “Usually fair trades are volunteer-driven with a paid manager, so it’s very student-friendly.” But that’s not the best part. “Working here is like having Christmas every day,” she gushed. “You get to open a new package, hear the story behind it and share this connection with someone so far away.”

Old Town’s losing two businesses Two Old Town businesses have called it quits. Portable Feast and Friends ended its lease adjacent to the Creole Gallery earlier this month. Owner/operator Sharon Hind couldn’t be reach, but Louise Gradwohl of the Old Town Commercial Association confirmed the news.

Nearby, the recently rebranded Gallery 1212 Old Town will close at the end of March. Partner Mike Scieszka, who’s been with the gallery for two years, said the decision was “primarily financial.” He said the other three partners and he are saddened, but are looking forward to making their own art again.

Kirabo 225 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing Winter hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; noon-4 p.m. Sunday (517) 337-8000, kirabofairtrade.com

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