Olympia’s Traditions Store Supports Fair-trade, Organic, and Local

The Traditions store on the corner of 5th and Water Street in downtown Olympia is a well-known store in the community.  With its location right next to the downtown fountain, and across from Capital Lake, it is typically a busy place that people will come to stop by to get a healthy organic snack, or look around the colorful artistic items in the store that are from all corners of the world. However few might know that since Traditions opened seventeen years ago, it has been a part of the Fair Trade Federation and helps support local artists in their shop.

Other expansions of Traditions include a performance space for all types of entertainment, from musicians, speakers, movie festivals, and forum groups.

After calling Traditions for an interview, Dick Meyer, the owner, was patient and flexible to make time. He was not available however, but said his experienced employee, Jody Mackey, would be more than happy to share some information.

Mackey has been an employee of Traditions for the last seventeen years since the business opened in 1996. When she met Meyer, the starter of Traditions, he told her about fair trade for the first time, and she couldn’t wait to be a part of it.

Mackey explained fair-trade as a way of doing business so that everyone makes a fair wage, and no one is left out. She quoted a video she saw explain fair-trade and said it’s “not a system, it’s a story” an “honorable way of trading”. When businesses aren’t a part of fair trade they are more likely to not get back the money that they invested into their products. Fair-trade at Traditions assures that the artists who are putting a lot of money into their quality products are getting just as much money back for selling their items.

Mackey said that without fair-trade businesses are often paid less and long after their products are sold. Fair trade can sometimes allow sellers to even be paid beforehand.

Mackey said almost all the items in their store were fair-traded, except a few local artists. She said Traditions makes an effort to work with the lesser known artists because they believe working cooperatives is what keeps a community running. In other words Traditions is making sure to represent the underdogs, that otherwise might not have been given a fair opportunity.

The main purpose of and goal of Traditions, Mackey says is, “to create a community space to support artists locally, especially in third world countries.”

Mackey said most people would be surprised to know that the employees of Traditions do almost no traveling to buy their products and is done for a specific purpose. Mackey said that the owner Meyer, felt it was biased to pick and choose what items should and shouldn’t be sold in a community without knowing the area and the people well.  Instead artists wanting to be part of fair-trade are noted by the Fair Trade Federation, whom Traditions is then notified by.

The store hours of Traditions are 9am-6m from Monday through Friday, 10am-6-m on Saturday, and 11am-5pm on Sunday. Mackey said these hours are often much later though for the many events Traditions hosts.

Along with helping artists around the world getting their fair-trade of money’s worth for their work, Traditions also services many other things to the Olympia community. Namely it’s performance space that is often in use. Mackey says the performance space is used for poetry, forums, environmental awareness, fundraisers, singing, potlucks, and much more. Mackey says Traditions especially works with Women’s groups, who use their performance space for meetings frequently.

Mackey never would have guessed herself to be a shopkeeper after getting her degree in science at Evergreen and spending six years in the military. Except she also never planned on being “lit on fire” as she said, after hearing about fair-trade.

Mackey says she loves storytelling and considers it part of her job. She says that the business decisions they make at Traditions aren’t about saving money, but about making connections with amazing artists.

One example of business decision that Mackey says didn’t save Traditions money, was their business to use paper bags and boxes specially made and decorated in Nepal for their shopping bags. Mackey was so excited about using these ornately decorated bags for their business, because if they hadn’t decided to use them, Mackey said the paper makers in Nepal would have had to gone out of business. Its unique connections like these that make Mackey passionate and loyal to Traditions.

Traditions has expanded a lot in the last fifteen years from just a few products in their shop and an organic café. Now the business has products from all over the world and a performance space for the community. Mackey said Traditions will probably never stop expanding to do more. Future plans for the store include adding more diversity to the products in their store including furniture and younger feeling clothes. Traditions’ main focus will continue to commit to their connections to fair-trade.


*Picture is from a NW blog http://nwexposure.com/2010/09/09/the-enormous-turnip. This mural is on the side of the Traditions store.


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