Retail, philanthropy, and celebration all connect at Ten Thousand Villages, located in Downtown Harrisonburg. For Kara Miller, Executive Director, Ten Thousand Villages has given her a place to grow within Harrisonburg, as she’s held her position for nearly six years.
Ten Thousand Villages is a nonprofit fair trade organization with multiple locations across the United States. The organization markets handcrafted products made by disadvantaged artisans from more than 120 artisan groups in more than 35 countries. Ten years ago, Miller began working as a volunteer to take up free time she had while engaged to her now husband. At the time, Ten Thousand Villages was located at Dayton Market and only open a few days a week. When they relocated to Downtown Harrisonburg, Miller was offered a sales position, which she eagerly accepted, and has since been promoted.
“It’s one of the best places to work retail,” Miller said. “Our customers are so wonderful and it is so fun to work for a company that you one hundred percent believe in.”
Miller said what’s kept her working at Ten Thousand Villages is the dedication the employees have for the company’s mission of bringing opportunity to artisans from various countries. The organization is known for its positive atmosphere, and the Harrisonburg location is no exception to this. When I walked into the shop, I felt welcomed and valued as a customer. The stories behind the products are inspiring, and it’s a perfect spot for gift shopping with the looming holiday season.
Originally from Souderton, Pennsylvania, Miller came to Eastern Mennonite University for undergrad, where she was first exposed to the Harrisonburg community. After graduation, she left for a year before returning to Harrisonburg, where her sister and some friends had been living. Her then boyfriend (now husband) followed her, and she’s built a life here ever since.
“Where I’m from there’s no specific downtown,” Miller said. “There’s a bunch of small areas that form together, and it’s really disconnected and there is no central place to go. [In Harrisonburg] it feels more like a community because you have that downtown location.”
During last year’s quarantine, Miller said she and her husband were able to explore places to eat downtown and chose a new spot for takeout each Friday. Some of her favorites are Cuban Burger, Chophouse, Billy Jack’s and Pale Fire. Miller also said she likes the slower pace Harrisonburg has to offer, which differs from where she grew up outside of Philadelphia. Her parents have since moved to Harrisonburg as well.
“I don’t think we’ll be leaving anytime soon,” Miller said, with a laugh.
Over the past year during COVID-19 and the associated shutdowns, Miller said she’s amazed at how well Ten Thousand Villages was able to do amid all the obstacles thrown its way.
“This year has been really good for us sales-wise,” Miller said. “We’ve really been feeling the community support this year and I’m hoping that’s what we’ll continue to see.”
On the horizon, Ten Thousand Villages will celebrate their 30-year anniversary in less than two years, which the Harrisonburg location will celebrate with the community. Another exciting event is the organization’s annual rug event, in which over 400 styles of rugs from Pakistan are available for purchase October 27-31.
“The fact that I’ve seen Ten Thousand Villages survive during this time is amazing to see,” Miller said. “Without changing anything from their mission; it’s abnormal, and really inspiring to see it thrive.”