Cultures celebrates 20 years

Cultures brightens up and becomes more inviting (Kayla Byrne/AQ)
Cultures brightens up and becomes more inviting (Kayla Byrne/AQ)

Downtown on York Street, tucked in a small alley called Mazzuca’s Lane, is the home to a freshly painted mural. Laying on the silver background is a tribal looking elephant, perching peace doves and dancing turtles.

The new artwork was put in place for the YMCA’s Cultures Boutique’s 20th birthday. The fair trade gift shop celebrated with renovations inside and out.

After a quick skip down the new-faced alley, you’re greeted by a stout mustard-yellow door. A turn of the knob and a slight push and you feel like you’ve entered a genie’s lamp. Inside, lanterns hang in the window, handmade clothing occupies a corner, a shelving unit is dedicated to incense, and two of the store’s workers comfortably chatter with a customer.

“We hadn’t put money into this place since it first opened 20 years ago, it was time to bring the place into today’s world,” said Elaine Peters, the boutique’s manager. “A lot of people really enjoy finding this place on their own, but instead of making people search through a not-so-welcoming alley, we decided to make the alley into our front door.”

Cultures Boutique is a way to unite the people of Fredericton with indigenous projects and the developing world. The store is operated by the Global and Community Department of the Fredericton.

Twenty years ago, the location was a wreck, but rent came cheap. Volunteers helped set up the store. Juliet Davis was one of those volunteers and still devotes a day every week to the boutique.

“I lived in Thailand for three years and I worked with tribe people selling their products for a fair price and I could see the difference that it made to families. They were able to keep their children home rather than letting them go down to the city where they would be used in unsavory ways,” said Davis. “So, I thought this was the ideal place for me to help out by giving a fair price to the producers of the products you see in here.”

Peters says Davis has been a great help throughout the years. The two travel together to pick up products for the store.

“I go to Mexico and work with different villages and women’s cooperatives. So, I buy directly from there. Also, Juliet and I go to a gift show in Toronto twice a year and there’s people there who are fair trade,” said Peters. “A lot of them are people who have gone backpacking around and have seen the need and have come back to Canada and developed their businesses.”

The two believe it’s important to bring their finds back to Fredericton because it reminds us there is another world outside of our tiny city.

“The kids that come in are always so inquisitive about all the countries and they learn and see they see the musical instruments and always ask questions. It’s an educational experience compared to a big box store,” said Peters.

The store rakes in a wide range of customers, but Peters is hoping the renovations will bring some people who may have not been willing to go scampering through alleys.

“YMCA rebranded so we changed our signs and colors, and because of that we’re noticing a difference in customers. Also, a lot of people didn’t know we were apart of the YMCA because it was not as noticeable on our sign. So, were getting some new supporters because of that,” said Peters.

“We’ve been getting a lot of people coming and being like ‘wow I didn’t know this store was here’, but we’ve been here for 20 years,” said Davis. “But we won’t hold that against you.”

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