Economy
7:12 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

Fair Trade Retailer Greater Goods Closing After 23 Years In Eugene

Joanie Kleban, owner of Greater Goods, stands with a few of the items in her store. She's closing shop after 23 years in business.
Credit Angela Kellner

One of downtown Eugene’s unique retailers is going out of business after 23 years of selling mostly fair trade products. KLCC’s Angela Kellner stopped by Greater Goods to find out how the business got started…and why it’s shutting down.

Across from the trendy 5th Street Public Market is a thrift store and Greater Goods.

Greater Goods sign with prayer flags.
Credit Angela Kellner

Step inside and you’re transported to myriad cultures and crafts. Owner Joanie Kleban explains how it all began.

Kleban: “We started importing via a business partner that we met back in the late ’80s and we began as a small business in the garage at my house on the west side of Eugene.”

Fair trade means those producers are earning a fair wage.

She sold products on college campuses and at festivals before opening the store in 1991. At the time, fair trade was in its infancy.

Credit Angela Kellner

Kleban: “Fair trade is a concept that has grown over the last 30 years. It means that the people who are producing these goods are supported in more than just the purchase of the item. And fair trade means that those producers are making a fair wage. Greater Goods means that we are supporting that part of fair trade.”

With Stevie Wonder playing on the stereo and customers browsing, Kleban showcases a few of her popular items.

Joanie Kleban bangs on a conga drum in her store, Greater Goods.
Credit Angela Kellner

Kleban: "We do have some shaker eggs; these are ocarinas that are from Chile, pan pipes also from South America, ceramic drums from India, steel drum from Woodstock Instruments. We have Tuareg jewelry and Tuareg leather which is camel hide.

Joanie Kleban shows off one of her many hats at Greater Goods.
Credit Angela Kellner

Hats have been a great way for us to connect with the male population of Eugene. We've probably had 20 different hat suppliers. Just had a customer in earlier today who is very sad. He bought two of his favorite hats that we still happen to have in his size, and what's he gonna do? So I gave him a reference to a hat shop in Portland."

With Greater Goods closing any day now, loyal customers will have to look elsewhere. BeeBee Head has shopped here since the beginning.

Head: "I met Joanie doing clay art over in the River Road area where I live and found out she was the owner of one of my favorite shops so [laughs] I'd already been coming here and then went, 'Oh, it's her place!'"
Reporter: "What are some of your favorite things over the years that you've purchased here?"
Head: "I bought the dress that I wore to my son's wedding. That was the most expensive piece of clothing I've ever bought and it was worth every penny. [Laughs] It was fun. I'll miss it. I'll miss Joanie. Good luck in every other endeavor."
Kleban: "Many thanks."

Our 2013 retail year was really challenging.

Greater Goods owner Joanie Kleban with loyal customer BeeBee Head of Eugene.
Credit Angela Kellner

Ironically, business has picked up since the announcement of the store closing. Kleban has fielded a lot of questions about why she's going out of business and what she'll do next.

Kleban: "It's been a long time decision. We're kind of ready for something different, I think, my business partner Vickie and myself. The economy in Eugene, and in 2014, is a really challenging economy to survive in. Our 2013 retail year was really challenging, pay the bills, make things work. So we're taking a sabbatical, seeing what comes up next, if anything. No promises, just ideas."

Customers can leave their contact information and leave messages for the Greater Goods staff.
Credit Angela Kellner

One idea is to continue selling locally-made and fair trade products in some capacity. In the meantime, the staff at Greater Goods is collecting emails to stay in touch with customers, and savoring the good memories.

Copyright 2014 KLCC.