Not your ordinary gift shop
Bear Mountain Gifts is also an advertisement for the Work Training Center’s employees
The recently opened Bear Mountain Gifts is more than a gift shop; it’s also an advertisement for the Work Training Center.Liz PrendergastAlice Rush stands behind a newly built glass case. A cordless phone is glued to her right ear , and she’s excitedly talking to the person on the other end. “It’s only 11 a.m., and we’ve already done almost $100. Not bad for our first day!”
Looking at Rush, surrounded by tote bags, pottery items and jewelry, it’s easy to understand why she’s ecstatic. More than a year ago she and several other directors of the Work Training Center came up with a simple vision: Bear Mountain Gift Shop. The store would sell products that the developmentally disabled clients of the WTC create.
Rush was the one who on Sept. 17 got to cut the thick red ribbon announcing the official opening of the store in front of community members and volunteers from the Chico Chamber of Commerce.
“It was so exciting to finally see the doors of the store opened to the public,” Rush said. “I felt a sense of relief that it had finally come to this point.”
It was Rush’s dream to work for a nonprofit organization upon graduating from Chico State, after majoring in journalism with a focus on public relations. Her match was made when she joined the staff of the WTC, an organization that provides vocational training and employment opportunities for 750 people with developmental disabilities. There are more than 14 different divisions of the 53-year-old WTC, all of which offer a variety of skill sets for people to develop and train in for future endeavors.
Among these are Deer Creek Sewing, Fair Street Recycling, Feather River Industries and the latest, Bear Mountain Gift Shop, which in time will integrate clients to work in the store along with Rush. “This shows the community that our clients are viable working people, and in turn other businesses will hopefully want to contract with us,” she said.
All WTC clients are paid for their time (below minimum wage, as allowed through an exemption to the law), and for some of the products sold in the store they receive part of the profits, while remaining sales go directly back into funding for different programs.
Although the WTC will benefit from money made in the store, Bear Mountain Gifts isn’t just looking to sell products. It is literally trying to sell itself to other businesses in the community, and the world for that matter. This is quite possibly the biggest marketing tool the WTC has.
“We are hoping that other businesses will see what we’re capable of and in turn want to utilize our services,” Rush said. The WTC already has contracts with Sierra Nevada Brewery for clients of Feather River Industry—the wood working division of WTC—to build gift crates for the brewery, while Deer Creek Sewing works with large corporations making specialized tote bags for employees. “We’re always looking for more work, and hopefully the store will bring in new opportunities for our clients,” Rush said.
Rush’s excitement builds again as she stands in the gift shop she helped design. An area that was previously an office for the WTC has been transformed into a bright and welcoming atmosphere, with the current leaf décor that surrounds each display appropriate for the fall season. A 1950s refrigerator stands in one corner with its blue door open, showcasing mustards from Sierra Nevada. An antique-looking picket fence lines the front wall.
Prior to the opening of Bear Mountain Gifts, the store was strictly online (www.bearmountaingifts.com). Although its customer base is around the nation, products were sold only in bulk due to cost efficiency. "With the opening of the store, people are now able to buy one item at a time," said Jim Jolley, marketing coordinator for the WTC. "This will raise the amount of revenue and expand our customer base."