Church’s store provides fair price for family products
By Julie Filby
Photo by Roxanne King/DCR
Supporting the community, while the community supports it, is what the new Fair Trade Store at St. Dominic Church in northwest Denver aims to accomplish.
Housed in the lower level of the Dominican priory next to the historic Gothic church at 29th Avenue and Federal Boulevard, the store opened to parishioners last May. The joint venture of St. Dominic’s and nearby Regis University offers bulk staple goods such as beans, rice, coffee, chocolate, soap and toilet paper from free trade organizations for sale at affordable prices.
“The free trade concept builds partnership, eliminates middle marketers and provides a fair price for products on the consumer end,” said Dominican Father Clint Honkomp, pastor at St. Dominic from 2006 until June this year when he moved to Madison, Wis. “(We) don’t jack up the price at the end, we pass on the savings.”
Of the 600 families in the close-knit, largely Latino parish it is estimated that 40 percent live at or below the poverty level.
“The idea, rather than to help with a food bank, was to build capacity and sustainability,” explained Meg Thams, associate professor of marketing at Regis University and director of the university’s involvement in the store.
Buying products wholesale and selling them in reusable containers not only keeps costs low, it helps foster environmental awareness by eliminating packaging.
“That’s where we cut the fat out,” said Thams. “The idea is to put $5, $10, $15 back in (the client’s) pocket a month,” while providing healthful, organic products.
The store is governed by a board of directors including Father Honkomp, pastor Dominican Father Thomas Lynch, Thams and parish business manager Marcela Perez. Day-to-day operations are managed by its sole employee Judy Hughes. Tasks are carried out by a pool of volunteers from the parish, the university, area high school students, and others.
Thams is currently on sabbatical to dedicate a year to the ministry. Students from her Value Chain Management class last spring were integral in getting the store up and running.
“They have been involved from the beginning,” she said.
Students conducted a survey of parishioners to determine what types of products to buy, created a distribution system, forecasted inventory, negotiated terms with vendors, and assisted with store layout.
“They did a lot of legwork,” said Perez.
St. Dominic Fair Trade Store
Where: St. Dominic priory, 3053 W. 29th Ave., Denver, lower level
Hours: 3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturdays, 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays
For Sale: Beans, rice, coffee, chocolate, soap and toilet paper
Questions: Call 303-455-3613
Another component of the store is access to pro-bono services from professionals such as legal advocates, nurses, a psychotherapist, audiologist and dentists.
“These services can help people be more effective in their dealings with others by giving them confidence to deal with situations,” said Thams.
They also hope to add a medical doctor, veterinarian and job training resources.
The enterprise has a three-year business plan in place, and will measure success not only in dollar and cents but using a “balanced scorecard.”
“We’ll make sure we’re measuring things besides profitability,” said Thams, such as ensuring the store is providing healthful items, offering affordable prices, meeting clients’ purchasing habits, encouraging environmental awareness, and promoting use of organic products.
The free trade concept falls in line with Dominican tradition. The Denver church is the only Dominican-run parish in Colorado.
“Part of our religious order has always been dedicated to simple living,” said Father Lynch. “And part of the free-trade concept is to simplify your life, and to include healthy elements whether that be through food or spirituality.”
While serving the community, the store functions to evangelize.
“The Dominican order has always had that element of outreach, regardless of one’s faith tradition,” he continued, “(and) to make the world a better place. That’s a Gospel value.”
Father Honkomp hopes the store will bring people closer to God.
“It’s an avenue in which people are placed in touch with the parish,” he said. “And can get reconnected with the Catholic faith.
“It’s a nice community place.”
The community feel is enhanced with hot coffee and snacks for customers, as well as a cookbook filled with recipes featuring items available in the store, such as mayocabo beans, a delicacy in Mexico and one of their top sellers.
The store is open a half-hour before and after weekend Masses: roughly 3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on Sundays. They serve 10-40 customers each weekand anticipate these numbers will increase following a grand opening anticipated later this year.