The best of both worlds has come to New Canaan in the guise of Ten Thousand Villages -- a fair trade retailer that's not only part of an enlightened effort to offer opportunity and equity to artisans in developing nations, but a merchant poised to present shoppers with a veritable cornucopia of unique, handmade products from around the globe.

Ten Thousand Villages has taken the space at 96 Main St., which has been empty for several years, and opened Nov. 7. On Saturday, Nov. 23, it will host a grand opening, with giveaways and refreshments for visitors.

"We're actually a nonprofit," Shawn Webb, store manager, said. "We source fair trade items from all over the world and we help people from very remote places."

In fact, hand-crafted items of all kinds are purchased from more than 35 different countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They include a variety of unique clothing items, crafts, fine embroidery, woven containers, sculptured creations and much more.

"It's all handcrafted fair trade goods, a lot of which are made from either recycled or renewable resources," Patty Novak, assistant manager, said.

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"But we do more than just go to the country and purchase the goods," she said.

The motivating idea is to provide artisans with an opportunity to support themselves when they might not otherwise have the chance, particularly those in remote regions. Ten Thousand Villages provides artisans with half the money up front in order for them to purchase the supplies they'll need, and unlike some unsavory businesses, pays the full balance to creators before taking possession of items.

"We do more than just go to the country and purchase the goods," Novak said.

"They're long-term relationships," Terri Sheridan, sales associate, said. "They really help them sustain their families."

The story of Ten Thousand Villages began in 1946 when a Pennsylvania resident Edna Ruth Byler made a trip to Puerto Rico and met a group of impoverished women who were also producing fine needlepoint work. She purchased as much as she could carry and brought it back home to sell.

"She went back and bought more, and got others to start doing it," Webb said. "That was the foundation of our organization."

Byler believed she could create sustainable economic opportunities for the women and others, provided a market could be established for their goods. "She's definitely one of the founding fathers of fair trade," Webb said.

There are now approximately 40 shops around the United States, with the nearest stores in New Haven and West Hartford.

"It really makes a lot of impact," Webb said, for even comparatively small amounts of income made big differences in these regions, providing opportunities for education and lifestyle changes, as well as sustenance.

Just one example are the saris that are created by the group known as "Sacred Mark," which is composed of women who were formerly financially bound to the red light districts of Bangladesh, but are now part of a creative retail venture.

"There are so many amazing stories," Webb said. "Many of our fair trade groups are women ... Imagine what happens when the richest people in the tribe are the women. Think of how that changes things? ... It really gets them a lot of respect now. All of a sudden women are going to school now. Their daughters are going to school."

Moving forward, Webb said, the store will be working in cooperation with some local charities to organize joint events. Ten Thousand Villages also welcomes volunteers, who can help by getting involved with the organization.

"It makes such a difference round the world when you can empower someone, and it doesn't take much money to do that," he said. "They don't have to sell too much to do that, yet the impact is amazing."

For more information, visit or call 203-972-9046.