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Ten Thousand Villages shutters nine locations, St. Jacobs included

The Ten Thousand Villages shop in St. Jacobs is one of nine slated to be closed as MCC reviews the profitability of its retail outlets.
The Ten Thousand Villages shop in St. Jacobs is one of nine slated to be closed as MCC reviews the profitability of its retail outlets. [Ali Wilson / The Observer]

The Ten Thousand Villages store in St. Jacobs will be closing permanently, part of MCC Canada’s decision to close nine locations due to changes in the retail market.

The move comes after the Mennonite Central Committee reviewed the profitability of its stores across the country.

“Retail’s a challenging market right now, and we have experienced across our store network a decrease in traffic,” Holly deGraaf, CEO of Ten Thousand Villages, told The Observer. “So that has resulted in us needing to make some decisions quickly about closing unprofitable stores, and St. Jacobs was one of the stores identified as needing to be closed.”

The store in St. Jacobs employs one person full-time and four hourly workers, while a total of 35 people will lose their positions across all the store closures (excluding two stores that are run independently).

“We recognize the impact of these difficult decisions on many individuals who work for and support the mission of Ten Thousand Villages,” said Rick Cober Bauman, executive director for MCC Canada, in a media statement.

Greater focus will be placed on the remaining 25 brick-and-mortar locations, to drive up sales and “streamline operations.” The company also said it would be giving emphasis to the company’s wholesale and e-commerce channels.

“We have communicated this news to all Ten Thousand Villages staff, and our priority will be to work out these closures with respect for our staff, volunteers and the communities they serve, as well as our artisan partners,” said deGraaf earlier in the statement.

In her interview with the Observer, deGraaf elaborated on the challenges.

“I think today’s consumer is changing, and there’s a shift in how people shop. So, definitely, online is a big opportunity for growth and it’s an area where we will focus,” she said.

The stores have long promoted fair trade practices in selling artisans’ wares from around the world. [Ali Wilson / The Observer]

“We won’t back away from brick-and-mortar all together, but we need to figure out how to shift with that changing marketplace. I think that you’ll find a lot more people shopping online, and this is part of our response.”

Certainly, there has been a shift from traditional retailing to online shopping, and Ten Thousand Villages has been far from the only casualty of the change. Even the giants in the retailing space have suffered store closures and declining sales. Sears Canada was perhaps the most prominent of last year, but there was also the likes of Target, while Zellers and Hudson Bay Co. have seen store closures as well.

The Ten Thousand Villages chain was founded in 1946 by the MCC as a means to support small artisans, co-ops and workshops, and to bring their crafts to consumers. The company says it is the oldest and largest fair-trade organization in North America, with locations in both Canada and the U.S.

As a fair-trade organization, the Ten Thousand Villages is committed to the principles set out by the World Fair Trade Organization. The company specifically works at poverty alleviation by trading fairly with producers, supporting good working conditions and paying fairly for products. The company sources products from more than 20,000 individual artisans from 27 countries to North American markets.

“We are deeply concerned about the impact on artisans, some of whom will have reduced access to markets for their products. Artisans have been paid in full for the goods we have purchased from them, in keeping with fair trade principles,” said Cober Bauman.

At the start of the month, Ten Thousand Villages began the process of closing down its stores in Calgary, Saskatoon, St. Jacobs, Stratford and Montreal. A store in Lethbridge, Alberta, meanwhile, was closed at the end of 2017. Two independently run stores in Windsor and Red Deer, are also scheduled for closure.

“I really would like to say thank you to St. Jacobs and all to have visited us there, and encourage them to visit us in Waterloo and New Hamburg and shop online,” said deGraff.

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