Lisa Pozin’s co-op features changing vendors, constant quality, available at the store and online. (image from givinggifts.ca)
Owning a small retail business may seem unconnected to making our planet a better place, but each purchase made in Lisa Pozin’s gift shop makes a positive difference in someone’s life.
Pozin started the company Giving Gifts about four years ago online. “I have been working at Temple Sholom as a program director since I was at university,” she said in an interview with the Jewish Independent. “I dreamt about having my own store before but I’m not a risk taker. I had a job, then I had three kids in three years. When I was on maternity leave with my youngest one, I decided it was time. Renting a retail space is expensive, and I wasn’t sure it would work, so I started online.”
Although her university degree in criminology and anthropology never prepared her for entrepreneurship, her job at Temple Sholom gave her practical business experience. “I got involved with the Temple’s gift shop. I liked it, liked finding artists and producers of interesting items. It appeared I have a good eye for what other people would want to buy.”
For Temple Sholom, of course, the items for sale have to have a Jewish connection (sholomjudaica.ca), but for her own shop, Pozin concentrated instead on selling only fair trade and eco-friendly gifts.
“I’ve always been a conscientious shopper myself. I think it’s part of being Jewish – trying to make a difference. I wanted to contribute to changing the world through shopping. There is this movement ‘Buy to Change’; I wanted to be part of it, wanted people to find special products in my shop, products which help the world. I sell things that help someone make a better life.”
Each product line has meaning. “We have necklaces called Giving Keys,” Pozin offered as an example. “They are keys with a word engraved on them, ‘strength’ or ‘courage.’ They’re meant to be passed on. When you get this key, you must give it away at some point to a person who needs the message on the key. The necklaces are made by formerly homeless people in L.A.”
Giving Gifts carries scarves made in Ethiopia by women transitioning out of the sex trade. It sells a series from Barefoot Books, a small children’s book company run by two mothers.
Each of Pozin’s vendors contributes to charities and, through them, so does Pozin. Ten percent of every sale made in the store is donated to various charities. “Mostly, they are children’s charities,” said Pozin. “A couple years ago, I started a donation campaign and we built a school in Kenya.”
When she finally opened a physical shop about a year and a half ago – Giving Gifts & Co. at 4570 Main St. – Pozin set it up as a co-op. “It’s a new concept in retail,” she said. “Giving Gifts is a permanent vendor at the store. The other vendors change. Each vendor rents a space from me for a certain amount of time – one day a week or some such – and sells his products and everything else in the store. This way, I don’t have to be in the store all the time and I help local artisans, jewelry and clothes makers, to sell their things. One of my vendors is a florist. Another is a perfumer. We have a wonderful community.”
Pozin offers shoppers both variety and convenience. She maintains an online presence (givinggifts.ca) and her services include shipping. “We ship almost every day. People shop online for gifts from small towns all over B.C. Even in Vancouver, they sometimes don’t have time to come to the store during working hours, so we ship to them.”
The shop manages to sustain itself. Pozin spends two days there and the rest of the week she still works at the synagogue.
“I love my work as a program director at Temple Sholom,” she said. “I work with families and teens. I run a seniors yoga class. It’s wonderful to work there, but I love my store, too. I’m excited when people buy from me. Together, we make a difference. We support good values and benefit the planet. There are more and more stores like that coming up everywhere. I hope the store will be successful at some point soon.”
In less than two years, Giving Gifts & Co. has acquired an excellent reputation. Earlier this year, it was a nominee in City of Vancouver’s first annual Awards of Excellence, which were presented in June, and it also made it into the latest edition of the Lonely Planet tourist guide.
“From Bakelite antiques to artisan chocolate bars and handmade kids wear, it’s well worth a browse if you’re in the neighborhood,” reads the guide entry. “The vendors are changed every few months to keep things lively, so there’s almost always something tempting to buy.”
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].