Lincoln Square store promotes fair trade

A new store in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood is hoping its blend of international products and economic justice will catch on with shoppers and promote economic development in third-world countries. 

Maya Essence, which opened on May 10 at 4361 N. Lincoln Ave., is an initiative by the non-profit group Casa Guatemala.

Artwork in the Maya Essence Fair Trade store.

Casa Guatemala was formed in the 1980s by individuals who wanted to develop a community-based organization to help empower the Guatemalan community.

At the Casa Guatemala headquarters, then located in Uptown, Guatemalans were offered information about their rights and the opportunity to gain skills to help them succeed in the community and workforce.

Casa Guatemala opened the Maya Essence store as a way to help support the co-ops in Guatemala, according to  member Pam Muralles.

"Especially with the high unemployment and poverty levels increasing in Guatemala, we felt we needed to organize as a cooperative."

Maya Essence supports fair trade from various countries, but mostly Guatemala. Fair trade is a social movement designed to ensure that producers are getting a fair price for their products. The hope is that a trickle down effect will help workers in poorer, developing countries provide better for their families and promote sustainability in their economy.

Maya Essence's products includes hand-woven baskets, chocolate and handmade children's clothes from Ghana and coffee from Guatemala. They also carry soaps and oils from a local company, Kitchen Enterprises, which supports low-income women.

Murallas says the store will get new products each month including, honey, tea, macadamia nuts, jelly, body products, scarves and jewelry.

Eventually, plans call for the opening of the back part of the store as a community space and art gallery. The staff will show documentaries and films about Guatemala as well as hold dance performances, martial art classes, and other activities.

Some products at the Maya Essence Fair Trade store.

The fair trade store is a collective effort with about 10-15 volunteers rotating shifts each week. Several students and interns help out with the store as well. Maya Essence is open from 12-8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Murallas says the organization chose the Lincoln Square location because of its belief that the neighborhood is full of people with a strong sense of what is going on in the community and internationally.

"I think it's a community that's willing to support fair trade, its true mission and what we believe in," Murallas says

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