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Winter 2009 Unique Concepts Winter 2009: Online Exclusives

Three Online Exclusive Concepts

A successful artists’ cooperative draws shoppers with monthly festivals.! gives treasured photos a new digital home in picture frames, CDs, memory cards and more.

A family’s interest in fair trade leads to two seasonal locations that connect shoppers with the world.

STAR Brings Culture, Art Lovers to the Mall

Bernadette Starzee

The Steamtown Artists Renaissance, an artists’ cooperative in Scranton, PA, had space issues. After the building in which they were operating shut down for repairs, STAR displayed its works at a downtown hotel on the first Friday of every month, when all the galleries in town open up to the public.

“We were getting tired of carrying all of our stuff back and forth to the hotel every month,” says Simona Gavern, the coordinator for STAR. “I started searching for a permanent space and we thought the The Mall at Steamtown would be the best choice. It’s a beautiful mall. A lot of local people go there to shop.”

imageAccording to Gavern, the idea was well received by mall management. “I talked to them and explained that we could bring in our following of arts lovers,” Gavern says. “Management had open minds and a vision. And the courage to take a chance on us.”
STAR renovated an available inline and opened the STAR Fine Arts Gallery in September 2007.

Gavern displayed her oil pastels, etchings and hand-sculpted ceramic pieces. STAR partners Jason Niznik, Jenny LaRosa, Bob Slachta and Robert Shotton displayed their photography, while Shotton set up custom framing and LaRosa did portraits. Tom Gates brought in his sculptures, Alexander Chuplygin, his contemporary science fiction art, and Julie Loftus, her watercolors, painted housewares and jewelry. Gerry Stankiewicz’s contributions were illustrations and caricatures, while Donya Albert brought in hand-painted fashion clothing.

imageCustomers often talk with the artist who created the work on display. “We have a schedule and we each put in our hours at the store,” says Gavern, who also works as an art therapist.

Showing their business-savvy, the artists specifically focused on showing products at varied price points, to bring in the widest range of shoppers possible. For example, for shoppers who might not want to spend on large paintings can buy smaller, limited-edition prints signed by the artists. The artists created other smaller items, too, such as cards and pendants.

As word of the gallery spread, other artists wanted to become part of it. “We didn’t have [enough display] space, but we took their names and numbers,” Gavern says. Soon, the list of interested artists grew to 20 pages.

Inspired, they approached mall management about holding art and music festivals in the mall. Again, the response was positive and the gallery began hosting monthly Artists Markets, during which about 25 to 30 additional artists display their work in the common area outside the gallery. Gavern’s husband, Tom, a STAR partner and local musician, now performs along with other musicians at the monthly Markets.

A new website,, is set to launch early in 2009, and will be used to publicize the store and engage the local community by inviting them to contribute to store murals.

“Management calls our section of the mall ‘the intellectual wing,’” Gavern says.

Specialty Leasing Manger Amy Zellers says she feels lucky to have STAR as a tenant. “When canvassing for new tenants, I look locally for unique concepts from people with passion, drive and excitement that will further our mission to create a shopping experience that’s exclusive to The Mall at Steamtown. The gallery is a unique addition to our tenant lineup that brings mall art lovers from northern and central Pennsylvania.”

She adds that the Artists Markets “create a community atmosphere within the mall where shopping and socializing are intertwined. The music is fantastic and the Artists Markets energize the entire shopping center.”

image! Saves Family Snapshots

Dan Bennett

Few things are as precious as old family photos.! makes certain that if these cherished photo prints are someday misplaced, faded or even eaten by tiny creatures in the attic, things will be OK. By making digital copies of photos and slides,! makes fading memories virtually permanent.

An online venture specializing in scanning photographs and slides then positioning them for the best presentation in digital frames,! is a natural for the Web. The company also scans and archives images in bulk on CD, DVD, memory cards and other media. Now the company is also finding that a cart in the Granite Run Mall in Philadelphia is a fine place to help families save their photo legacies.

image“With a physical mall location, we can show the customer the results right there,” says Maxx Messinger, who founded the company with his wife, Monica. “We’re in a good location at the mall for the holidays-at the bottom of the down escalator, next to Santa Claus. The mall is a place where shoppers can get to know who we really are. That we care about saving these photos for them. That it means something to us.”

A lot of companies specialize in transferring VHS tapes and 8mm films to DVD, “but not a lot of companies were offering a service that transfers old photographs,” he says.

With a long professional background scanning photographs for automotive companies and other businesses, he knows how to get the best digital images possible. He and Monica receive all sorts of photo requests, from  archiving old family photos dating back to the 1800s to saving new-baby photos on photo frames for easy dissemination to family members. Sometimes people hand the over thousands of prints and slides at one time.

“There are a lot of reasons people do this, from wanting to make sure their new-baby photos are properly saved, to sharing their family legacy from long ago with their children,” Messinger says.

Growth plans for 2009 include the possibility of more corporate mall locations as well as a startup package for independent distributors.   

“I can see the concept of selling photo scanning services and digital picture frames as a very real possibility for malls across America,” he says. “Once the customer sees the value in person, there is a lot of enthusiasm.”¬†


Fair Trade Winds Profits from Purpose

Dan Bennett

Two years ago, Paul Culler says he was turning 50, wondering how to handle his midlife crisis. His wife, Lois, asked him to skip the two-seater sports car, but signed off on his second idea: The family would open a seasonal fair-trade retail store called Fair Trade Winds in Bar Harbor, Maine.

The Cullers had been selling fair-trade coffee and chocolate to benefit their church in Fairfax, VA for several years, so they knew the market and wholly supported the fair-trade concept. Fair trade, as described on the company’s website at, “is a just, economically and environmentally sound global cooperative between artisans, traders, farmers, buyers and consumers. By selling directly to buyers in North America, producers in Africa, Asia, Latin America and other developing countries receive a reasonable living wage for their goods instead of a low, undeserving price.”

Residents of Fairfax, Virginia but frequent visitors to Bar Harbor, the Cullers felt the locals and tourists in one of Maine’s most beautiful and rugged coastal towns would appreciate fair-trade products. They planned a downtown store that would opened in early summer close at the end of December.

After a slow first year, things picked up. With Bar Harbor locals and the Cullers’ daughter running the store (while attending a nearby college), Paul and Lois decided to try the same concept closer to home.

imageIn October of last year, they opened the Fair Trade Winds cart in the Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax. The plan is to keep the cart open at least through January 31st, and perhaps longer. The cart serves as an outpost for the Maine store, selling many of the store’s most popular items, including jewelry, purses, scarves, craftwork of all kinds, plus food and paper products such as personal journals, with a heavy emphasis on recycled merchandise.

The cart “is a smaller commitment than a traditional store, and we thought we would see what happens in a mall setting,” Paul Culler says. “There really wasn’t any kind of fair-trade retail presence in the western part of Fairfax County.” Though many customers who stop by the cart have some idea of what fair-trade goods are, others are curious and want to learn more.

“A lot of people come up and spend a couple of minutes looking at the products and talking,” he says. “They can see it isn’t just a bunch of products bought in Taiwan, and they are curious.”

Shoppers often delighted when they hear that purchasing Fair Trade Winds’ tea bags made from recycled materials benefits women’s groups in Africa, or that coffee sales help coffee farmers in Latin America pay for schooling and healthcare for their children. When customers pick up recycled purses made of inner tubes from El Salvador or journals made from tree-free paper (paper made from sources such as hemp or sugar cane husk) in the Himalayas, they feel connected to the bigger world picture. Those good feelings turn into sales.

“The margins on fair-trade products aren’t that great,” says Culler, a certified financial planner. “But the sales mean that the people who made the products are actually receiving a fair wage. It’s a concept that we’re trying to promote and accomplish, as much as make a business profit.

“Of course, the slimmer profits make growth a slower concept. Part of our growth dilemma is the ability to expand in high-rent areas,” he says. “But it’s possible we will grow at a reasonable pace, maybe opening some full-sized stores in malls, maybe opening carts at airports, if it makes sense.”

What will likely keep the Cullers in the fair-trade retail business, he says, is the reaction they get from their store and cart customers every day. “When they visit us in the Bar Harbor store, or stop by the cart in the mall, they often say, ‘We’re glad you’re here,’ It means a lot to hear something like that.”

Mouse over images below to view.

Bernadette Starzee

Starzee, a Long Island, NY writer who covers business, sports and lifestyle topics, is a senior writer for SRR. She can be reached at .

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