Merchandise With A Mission
The Woman's Exchange supports crafters by giving them an outlet for work and boosts community ties by donating profits to charity
How many times have you been searching for the perfect, unique gift for someone that you know but end up in a chain store buying something that was cranked out in a large factory with thousands of others just like it?
If you’ve had enough of that, it’s time to visit The Woman’s Exchange on Church Street in Little Silver. The store not only offers distinctive gifts, but it has a back story that will make you smile with every purchase you make.
The Woman’s Exchange was started in 1934 with the mission to “help people help themselves.” It is an all volunteer, 501©3 nonprofit organization that represents the talents of more than 300 artisans. Many of their items are handcrafted in the United States by local artisans who would otherwise have no outlet for their talents.
The store features expertly crafted items from around the country. The craftsmanship includes hand painted items, hand knitted children’s clothing and blankets, hand carved wood figurines, and handmade jewelry.
The Woman’s Exchange purchases items directly from the crafters and then sells them on consignment, with a large portion of the sales price returning to the artist.
Any profits that are made after artists receive their pay are donated to charity. At the end of each year, any profits that have been made are distributed to local charities in Monmouth County. Over the course of the last twenty years, The Woman’s Exchange had donated over $500,000 to local charities.
Each year, the Board of Directors meets and decides what charities to donate to. In the past, the recipients have been 180 Turning Lives Around, The Parker Health Clinic, Saturday Soup, Behavioral Health Services and Habcore.
Store manager Lori Saybolt is a strong believer in the value of community. She began her career with The Woman’s Exchange as a crafter. A long time veteran of the retail business, Saybolt decided to take some time off when she had children and needed a creative outlet. She began making growth measurement sticks for her children, and, on a whim, took a few to The Woman’s Exchange. They sold out, and soon, Saybolt had numerous requests for more. A few years later, Saybolt was asked to join the team and has now been a manager at the Little Silver store for 23 years.
The Woman’s Exchange is run exclusively by volunteers aside from Saybolt. They are in constant need of new volunteers and are very accomodating to schedules. They accept adult and student volunteers who are looking to accumulate community service hours.
The Woman’s Exchange is not a revolving door of volunteers, either. All age groups sign up to volunteer and those who come fall in love with the store and the mission. Gladys Vinais became part of the Woman’s Exchange in 1997 and has been volunteering ever since.
“It’s been a wonderful experience volunteering here,” Vinais smiled. “It’s nice to be part of something that is bigger than you.”
Vitoria Lucarelli is a high school student who dedicates her after school time to helping out at the Woman’s Exchange.
“When I started volunteering here, I knew I’d be staying around for awhile,” Lucarelli smiled. “It’s just such a great place and a great mission to be a part of.”
In an effort to further her community ties, Saybolt even began The Little Silver Business and Professional Association. The LSBPA tries to solidify relationships between the business and professional community in order to promote and support a thriving small town.
The uniqueness of a store like The Woman’s Exchange seems to be an endangered species in our modern world of discount and warehouse stores. The staff is welcoming, warm, and knows many of their customers by name.
“It’s not your everyday discount store where no one even looks you in the eye,” Saybolt says, smiling. “This is a real ‘neighborhood’ store.”
If you are a crafter interested in selling your merchandise, please visit http://thewomansexchange.com/
The Woman’s Exchange needs and welcomes new volunteers. Visit their website, call 732-741-1164, or stop by the store at 32 Church St. for more information.