Traditions & New Traditions -Globally Local

Local businesses connect to global community

By Rebekah Finn

When Dick Meyer opened Traditions over 20 years ago, he envisioned a welcoming venue where people could come together in support of community locally and globally. On the bustling Friday afternoon that I got to spend in Traditions Cafe and New Traditions retail shop, it certainly felt like an inviting community gathering place. The sun shining through the large windows overlooking Heritage Park lit up all the brightly colored artwork as a guitarist provided soothing music for friends chatting over lunch, and I simply felt welcome and at home.

Having already been involved with the Antique Sandwich Shop in Tacoma, Meyer was familiar with the concept of a local cafe that provided a space for the community to share music and conversation in a family friendly environment. When Meyer began working with fair trade wholesalers, he was able to start selling fair trade items in a corner of the Antique Sandwich Shop.

In 1994, after he and his family moved to Olympia, Meyer opened Traditions fair trade shop downtown, in a smaller section of the building where it currently operates. In the spring of 1996, Evergreen student Jody Mackey walked into Traditions and learned about fair trade for the first time. She was so excited about the concept, and knew she just had to be a part of it, so she introduced herself to Meyer and expressed her interest.

 “He wouldn’t let me volunteer, because part of fair trade is that everybody gets paid. So he had to hire me,” Mackey joyfully recalls. A few months later, Traditions was ready to take over the cafe space and was gearing up for a grand opening in conjunction with Fall Arts Walk 1996.

Since then, the business has been a pillar of the downtown Olympia community, being a visible colorful beacon on the corner of 5th Avenue and Water Street. Almost two years ago, in the summer of 2016, Meyer decided to take a step back from round-the-clock business ownership, and handed over the retail portion to Mackey and Stacy Muguet, another long-time friend and colleague who had met Meyer through the international fair trade community.

Speaking of fair trade, which is a cornerstone of both Traditions Cafe and New Traditions shop, Meyer and Mackey both have experience serving on the review board for the Fair Trade Federation.

“It’s really important for those of us who fair trade, to really be able to walk the talk,” explains Meyer. “There’s a whole set of principles associated with a whole variety of practices, which can be verified as well as possible within the network.”

  Mackey and Muguet continue Meyer’s work of practicing the Fair Trade Federation values of trust, respect, community, and sustainability on the local level.

“My model of how we run business is to give a lot of responsibility to work without a hierarchy and work as equals as much as possible,” Meyer explains. “We’re not all perfect beings, so I’m not trying to give the impression that we’ve set up a utopia. Nevertheless, I think that model of working with people to give them responsibility, to trust them and to work as equals accentuates the best in our attributes, and it’s always worked for us.”

That respect spreads to the global community that the three owners have plugged into through their retail business. Every item in New Traditions has a story, and Mackey and Muguet are always happy to share.

“I’ve become a storyteller,” says Mackey. “Every day I get to show people that not only does this product serve their purposes, but it connects back to these people. I have a million stories. I enjoy finding ways to feel more connected around the world, and I get to do that through this store.”

To hear those stories, have a bite to eat, participate in a thought-provoking conversation, or hear some live poetry or music, head over to 300 Fifth Ave. SW. in downtown Olympia. The store and cafe are both open seven days a week.