Students run downtown store

Taylor Harrison

There’s a new shop in Fountain Square downtown, and it’s not another coffee shop.

The Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) organization and Jonathon Randolph, who is unaffiliated with SIFE, are using a store space in Fountain Square downtown as part of a competition.

SIFE will be using the space to sell baskets as part of their Kenya Basket Project and other woven items such as scarves, handbags and shawls as part of a project called Community Threads.

For the other section of the store,  Randolph, a graduate student from Auburn, will be selling handmade furniture.

Krist Schell, executive-in-residence at WKU, said the two projects are sharing the space.

“There are two ventures under one roof,” Schell said.

The students will get to use the store space until April because they won a competition with their business proposals. 

Bardstown graduate student Zach Mattingly, president of SIFE, said they have about $1,500 worth of Community Threads merchandise and about 200 Kenyan baskets in the store.

“Two weeks ago, we had our official opening,” Mattingly said. “It’s been going pretty well. We’ve made a couple of sales.”

Schell said SIFE is selling baskets imported from Kenya, but the other textiles are made in Bowling Green by refugees from Myanmar.

“We return the proceeds to the weavers, both the basket weavers in Kenya and the Burmese weavers,” Schell said. “We take a commission and we put the money back into making the project bigger.”

Mattingly said around 90 percent of the profits from Community Threads goes back to the refugees who make the products and 70 percent goes back to the Kenyan basket weavers. 

Randolph said the furniture in his part of the store will be locally made, mostly by students who are advanced in their craft. 

The furniture will consist of chairs, tables, bed frames and entertainment centers, among other items.

“It probably will be cheaper than most because, you know, they’re students, but it’s still going to be really good work,” Randolph said. “If it’s not made on the Hill, it’s going to be locally made.”

Bob Hatfield, associate dean of Graduate Programs and Research, said the students get to use the space for free because it is donated by a woman who wishes to remain anonymous.

“It’s our first opportunity to use retail space, and I really think that might happen in the future for our students, and that’s exciting,” Hatfield said.

Hatfield also said this is a no-fault opportunity for the students.

“If they were putting their money together and leasing a space, if they failed, they’ve lost all that,” Hatfield said. “In this case, we’re … subsidizing and kind of propping the student up and giving them a chance to sell their idea.”