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Aug. 4, 2020 | Tuesday
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Ten Thousand Villages NOTL store to close its doors in May

Although the closure of Ten Thousand Villages makes Niagara-on-the-Lake store manager Teresa Friesen feel “extremely sad,” she finds comfort in knowing that relationships developed between the community, staff and volunteers through working for the store for the past 34 years will continue to carry on.

“Just because the store is closed, doesn’t mean that our relationships end. It doesn’t mean we’re never going to see each other again,” Friesen said. “These relationships that we’ve built and we bonded over this mission here with Ten Thousand Villages, that doesn’t break us.”

Ten Thousand Villages is a fair-trade social enterprise, launched by the non-profit Mennonite Central Committee, which sells crafts, home décor and other items made by artisans in developing countries.

In a press release issued on Jan. 21, the Mennonite Central Committee Canada announced it will shut down its corporate operations across Canada, including its the head office, the distribution centre and Ten Thousand Villages Canada webstore.

All operations across Canada will be completed by June. The NOTL location is expected to close on May 29 and all merchandise will be liquidated.

Ten Thousand Villages U.S., which is a separate entity, and eight independently-owned Ten Thousand Villages stores across Canada, including one in Port Colborne and another in Cobourg, will remain open.

Since the announcement, a lot of NOTL residents had come in and expressed how sad they were to hear about the closure, Friesen said.

“Being in Niagara-on-the-Lake for so long, for us to have to close our doors, it’s hard.”

Friesen said she will miss the community, interacting with customers and working with volunteers who became like family.

“It wasn’t just a job. We were doing something more than that,” Friesen told The Lake Report. “Those relationships that we’ve developed over the years that I’ve been here, that’s what I’m going to miss the most.”

In a media statement, Rick Cober Bauman, an executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee Canada, said the “dramatic changes” in the retail market and consumer habits have led the organization to shut down its operations as its business model was no longer viable.

In NOTL, the store has experienced a significant decline in customers in the past year, Friesen said. The store’s physical data has showed there was a drop from 20 to 40 per cent of customers on the weekends in summer.

“For a business, to carry on and cover our costs and cover the cost of our rent, which is very high, it’s hard to keep your head above water. And we’re a not-for-profit organization and that makes it even harder.”

Online shopping has been a huge factor in customer decline, Friesen said, wondering whether with the ever-changing retail market the brick-and-mortar stores would become “something of the past.”

“It goes to show it’s not just the change in retail, it’s a change in society. What is important, what is ethical? Because online shopping creates so much waste,” she said providing an example of how there's a lot of packaging sent by mail and gas emissions created by delivery vehicles. “As a society, we have to decide what’s important.”

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