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A ‘corner store’ for people in the far corners

Annette Pereira and her Baksheesh store help developing-nation artisans

“We are committed to trading fairly with artisans in the developing world and the U.S.,” reads a handbill at Baksheesh, which, in fact, markets products from 38 countries, including the United States.

“We help people all over the world make a living so they’re able to send their kids to school and to create a life,” said the dark-haired and athletically trim Pereira as she described her store’s mission in a small room up above the miscellany of handcrafted products.

“They’re usually in rural areas, so they are the poorest of the poor,” Pereira continued. “We buy from fair trade associations. They help the artisans create their products and market them.”

The word “baksheesh” is believed to be of Persian origin. Loosely translated, it has something to do with the giving of gifts. And essentially the three Baksheesh stores that have opened over the last 12 years are gift shops, where consumers can purchase foreign-made jewelry, toys, basketry, woven goods, articles of home decor, cooking ware and utensils and bric-a-brac at bargain prices.

Baksheesh’s merchandise is much along the lines of what can be purchased at stores like Pier 1. But there are two very important differences, Pereira explained.

One, Baksheesh pays the artisans half of the agreed-upon cost up front and then pays the remainder when it receives the product.

 “At places like Pier 1 they pay after they get the product, which may be 60 days out,” said Pereira. “The groups we work with can’t afford that; they need money to buy raw materials sometimes.”

Secondly, Baksheesh marks its merchandise up 50 percent, while most other retailers jack the price up 100 to 200 percent over wholesale.

The hot commodities at Baksheesh are the jewelry that comes from seven or eight nations and the home décor. The artisans, many of whom have been supplying their crafts to Baksheesh for years, are nothing if not creative. You will find a hot-selling Vietnamese ornament made from newspaper in Baksheesh’s year-round Christmas array. You will also find items reclaimed from discarded posters, television aerials and parts of oil drums.

The piece de resistance are the colorfully and attractively decorated all-occasion cards, most with elephants depicted on them. Perhaps that’s because the paper for the cards is recycled from elephant dung.

Heart-felt beginnings

Baksheesh was founded in the mid ’90s by a woman named Candy Smucker, who opened a store in downtown Sonoma after the conditions she saw in a trip to Bangladesh “touched her heart,” said Pereira. Five years ago a second store was opened in Healdsburg. Pereira opened the St. Helena store on May 1, 2007.

“I walked into the Sonoma store — I think it’s been seven years ago now — and it touched me,” she said. “I thought about the kind of people who do this. Then I started thinking about fair trade. Now, when I shop other stores I see what’s fair trade, hand-made and recycled, and I don’t buy anything from certain countries. You do get involved in it.”

Creating jobs

People in the Upvalley are catching on to Pereira’s mission at Baksheesh, which is to create jobs for the developing-country artisans to get them out of the sweatshops and enable them to educate their children.

“We intend to attract people to our store who are socially conscious, or out in the world to help people,” said Pereira, who has made some inroads in that direction.

“Now, I have customers walk through the door who are more socially conscious than they’ve ever been,” she added. “Five years ago people didn’t know about fair trade. Now they do. People buying fair trade, local and recycled — that’s what the world needs.”

As well as what it does for artisans, Baksheesh does outreach — it will distribute paper and school supplies to hundreds of children in an as yet unnamed country at the summer’s end. Pereira also aids programs locally.

This native of the Phoenix-Scottsdale area of Arizona who schooled at Arizona State-Tempe seems to have the ideal disposition to run a for-profit business like a nonprofit.  

“She’s friendly, very outgoing and does a lot of camping, hiking and biking,” said Amber Ebline, a clerk at Goodman’s Department Store next-door.

Pereira’s love for her work is not because it’s all enjoyable. Far from it.

“We travel to see the impact on the artisans’ lives, but it’s not fun,” she reflected. “It makes you very proud that you participate in helping them, but they’re still very, very poor.

“One woman we went to see in Guatemala really impacted me,” Pereira added. “She had a dirt floor and lived in kind of a one-room mud structure. By morning light through the window, she would make jewelry. But, because that was her sole light, at night — when she didn’t need her eyes — she crocheted.”

 Pereira’s eyes turned misty as she thought about the question of the general state of conditions for developing-country artisans.

“They are happy … simple,” she said. “Their goal is to send their kids to school …”

She paused, seemingly to hold back tears.

“It’s so different than the way we live,” she said finally.

Does she feel Baksheesh raises the hopes for these people?

“Yes, but I also see them doing a lot on their own,” Pereira responded. “They are resourceful, strong people. I have a lot of respect for them.”


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