Merlene Davis: New mission venture helps us all

Quilts are among the handmade items for sale at The Bazaar. Other items by local artisans include soaps and clothing.
Quilts are among the handmade items for sale at The Bazaar. Other items by local artisans include soaps and clothing.

Being a thrift store junkie, I had visited the triangular-shaped building at the corner of Bryan Avenue and North Limestone many times, but not in recent months.

The last time I was there, parts of the store were under construction, and now I know why.

The Lexington Rescue Mission, which leases the building at 720 Bryan Avenue and owns and operates the thrift store, has created space inside the building for two new business enterprises — The Bazaar and The Gathering Place — just as the North Limestone corridor is transforming itself.

In the Bazaar, artisans and entrepreneurs have booths in which to sell their wares, including collectibles, antiques, quilts, soaps and candles, handmade paper books, jewelry and even tie-dyed onesies for infants.

One booth displayed several pieces of wall art constructed of interwoven leather belts. The same booth had chairs whose seats were composed of interwoven belts much like caning would have been done in years past.

"One of the things we have seen at the mission when people come in for employment services is, they have a dream of starting their own business, but they don't have the resources to make that happen," said Laura Connell, the mission's development director. "The Bazaar provides an outlet for that."

Vendors won't be charged for their booths, but 40 percent of their sales goes to the mission's ministry for the poor and homeless.

Several artists have signed on, including Melissa Oesch, who handcrafts one-of-a-kind journals, sketchbooks and other unique creations from recycled materials; Kathy Werking, owner of Soap Werks, a line of handmade soaps, body-care products, lotions and bath salts; and Rebecca Pittenger of La Percha Designs, which creates clothing.

"It is definitely a risk, especially at this time of year, when there are so many festivals, and they can showcase their work" in other places, Allen said.

The Bazaar will provide "bridge employment" for the mission's clients who will oversee the vendors' booths.

At the Gathering Place, a coffee bar which sells home-baked goods and Fair Trade coffees, clients can earn money, as well as work experience, as they regain their footing.

Two of the products being sold there are CaffeMarco, a product of Fair Trade farms in Central and South America and Africa that is roasted in Paris, Ky., and Café Justo, a pure organic coffee that is grown, harvested, roasted, and packaged in Mexico by a cooperative that helps families stay on their farms.

"We want it to be a place where people in the community and the local neighborhood can come and gather and fellowship," Connell said.

Current renovations involve the lower level, which will become home to a new and used bookstore and might serve as a small entertainment spot. The entrance to that venture will be 778 North Limestone.

The grand opening and unveiling for all the renovations will be 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. July 9

"We are going to have some local bands play to celebrate our grand opening," said Mary Beth Allen, Bazaar and Gathering Place coordinator. "There will be free coffee and free food. We want to get the community out there and spread the word on what we are doing."

The move is a side step from all the services the mission has provided to Lexington's poor since it began 10 years ago. Those services include hot meals three days a week, employment help, budgeting and parenting skills, emergency financial help and free medical services for its clients and their families and others who are in recovery, all at 444 Glen Arvin Avenue. It also provides lodging and support for men recovering from substance abuse at its Life Renewal program at 649 North Limestone.

And the mission has a thrift store in addition to the one at Bryan Avenue, at 487 East New Circle Road.

Become a part of a thriving new community, and help the poor at the same time? Looks like everybody wins to me.