Global Gallery, the oldest fair-trade marketplace in central Ohio, is in the throes of some big changes. The Clintonville coffee shop is being renovated and is preparing to serve alcohol. The Short North gift shop is under the management of a partner organization.

April 9, 2014

Global Gallery, the oldest fair-trade marketplace in central Ohio, is in the throes of some big changes.

The Clintonville coffee shop is being renovated and is preparing to serve alcohol. The Short North gift shop is under the management of a partner organization.

Still, the mission of the nonprofit group - to market sustainable products, support safe working environments and encourage entrepreneurs in developing countries - remains the same.

That's manifested in the coffees and teas offered at the 3535 N. High St. coffee shop, and in the baskets, jewelry and other items sold in the companion market at the Clintonville location and at the Short North gift shop, at 682 N. High St.

"Fair trade is growing in Columbus, and Global Gallery has more partners and supporters than ever," said Jen Miller, Global Gallery board president. "We're excited about all of our growing efforts in fair-trade education and an improved Global Gallery coffee shop."

The movement "is here to stay and gaining influence," said Deborah Mitchell, a professor of marketing at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business. "If the quality is there and the price is within their economic means, more and more people say they want to support this.

"This is part of a broad shift in consumer purchasing," Mitchell said. "People care about sustainability and fair trade, they care about the humane treatment of animals. It's a really interesting time in America. We are seeing this shift, along with people becoming more price- and value-conscious."

The organization began in 1991, when five Columbus-area churches created the nonprofit shop to sell products made by poor people throughout the world and raise awareness about fair trade.

The Short North shop did well enough that it was able to expand to locations such as Yellow Springs, Ohio, and German Village over the years, although those shops have since closed.

Then in 2011 came the Clintonville shop, which not only offers products such as pottery from Peru, grass baskets from Bangladesh and soap from India, but also food and drink.

In 2012, the group launched Mobile Global, a renovated bookmobile that travels to craft fairs and events such as the Gallery Hop.

Just this winter, management of the longtime Short North location was taken over by a sister group, Global Gifts, which has three locations in Indiana. The Clintonville shop's combination of retail and restaurant has been a winner, Miller said, and is the focus of much attention at present.

Originally a gas station, the Clintonville location is undergoing a renovation that will add a bathroom, redo the parking lot, upgrade access for the disabled, improve the front patio and - thanks to Clintonville voters last year - offer local beer, local spirits and fair-trade wine.

"We really want to thank Clintonville for continuing to support our coffee shop through overwhelmingly voting in favor of our liquor variance and continued support as patrons," Miller said.

The liquor license will allow Global Gallery to host events such as jazz happy hours, internationally themed brunches and fundraisers, such as this Saturday's Fair Trade Fest, which will help pay for the Clintonville renovation, Miller said.

"But we have to wait for the renovation to be done in order to get the liquor license," she said.

The transformation of the Clintonville location into a community gathering spot is part of a national trend and a smart move on the part of Global Gallery, OSU's Mitchell said.

"The idea of 'the third place' - social environments that are not work, not home - is becoming more and more important to more and more Americans," Mitchell said, one "that should be very attractive to a lot of people in Clintonville."

Sitting at one of the big tables in what was once a garage bay, Miller pointed to some of the products in the shop.

"They're not just products but living cultures," she said. "This basket from Ghana - it's absolutely invincible."

Made from a non-native grass that has invaded the canals in Ghana, the baskets are woven by women using a technique that has been passed down for generations.

"To me, that's fair trade: Using a traditional technique to create a marketable item," she said. "This basket allows a woman to stay home - they average eight kids - and still work."

She picked up a coloring book from Sri Lanka, I Am Mr. Ellie Pooh, the World's Only Living Paper Mill.

"It's got an awesome story," she said, chuckling. "It's actually made from elephant poo." The dung is squashed into sheets, dried and cut into pages.

Prices range from a $1 for a bottle of organic soda and $2 for coffee to art pieces costing several hundred dollars, as well as midrange items such as a Kenyan soapstone sculpture for $40 that is "a really popular wedding present," Miller said.

The retail area is only one part of the shop, with the greater portion devoted to eating and drinking.

"Why a coffee shop?" Miller said. "It goes back to our education mission. We feel we reach different people over coffee rather than when they're buying other goods."

The group uses the location to help foster what already is a strong relationship with Clintonville.

"It's harder - margins are lower on food - but it develops a deeper relationship with the community."

The coffee ties in well with the organization's theme, too, she said.

"We don't want to create new classism," Miller said. "Fair trade should bring an entire community up. Coffee is the second most traded commodity, after oil, but with conventionally traded coffee, the small growers struggle to feed their children. It's simple to make that fair."