Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Need to Take a Train 100 Miles to Buy Gift Items from a Vendor that was an Elevator Away for 12 Years

I often find myself chatting with folks about where I worked at Schwartz, particularly as I didn't regularly work out of the Downer Avenue location. I explain that I had two runs at the Iron Block building, spent four years commuting to our Whitefish offices, and managed our Mequon location for a year. I explain that I spent time working at all the Schwartz stores, mostly at holidays, sales, and big events. I was also sent in periodically to help pull returns.

But for most of my career as a Schwartz bookseller, I worked at the Phoenix Building in the Third Ward. It was once a factory that made stockings and other hosiery, and Jackie the manager has collected a number of Phoenix artifacts, including tips on what shades a woman in the know would wear in the 1940's.

What I know now that I wish I knew then--taupe is always a safe bet.

There were many interesting tenants in the building, but one company that always caught my eye was Pilgrim Imports. There were a couple of folks I said hi to on the elevator, and they had an annual Christmas sale that was open to other building residents (and likely, the general public, though I think ads were limited to the elevator). I didn't really know what they sold and I mostly buy books as gifts (yes, shocking) so I didn't much pay attention.

So this past month I was at the Chicago gift show and was shopping the temporary booths. I came across a Pilgrim Imports booth. I hadn't seen them previously at the show, but maybe I had just sped by. We're always looking for a nice bookmark, and they had these book charms that I thought we could sell.

While chatting, I asked where they were from, and when the salesman said "Milwaukee", I realized these were my old neighbors. They're still in the Third Ward, though in their own building, on the other side of the parking garage. I went up recently to see the new 800-CEO-Read offices, and wondered if I could see their building through the window. You can't--it's blocked (see photo).

For all these years, I had no idea that Pilgrim Imports is more than just your average importer. No sweatshop buying for them. Instead, they have partnered with a village in Thailand, where the families craft jewelry, ornaments and other handiworks using sustainable and environmentally sound techniques, which also preserve village traditions (they stop work in harvest season). Pilgrim's partnership has led to many village improvements, such as a water purification system. Read more here.

I do have visions of being able to run upstairs and buy product for the store, but alas, that didn't happen. For the next best thing, I picked up our order while changing buses from the 15 to the 30. We should have the book charms on display in the next few days--the assortment consists of dog, cat, treble clef, heart, butterfly, and dragonfly. Each is $9.95. Being that we sold out of our dragonfly wind chime rather quickly, I wouldn't be surprised to see this one be quite popular.

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