Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel
August 10, 2010
Wow factor: The space contains two nonprofit businesses, the Upper Room Art Gallery in the front room facing Las Olas Boulevard, and Mission Gifts, a store with lower-priced bags, greeting cards, and jewelry. The two businesses operate under the umbrella of the Christian Cultural Development Foundation, and sales benefit a dozen organizations in Asia, including those that work to end human trafficking and provide AIDS therapy.
Background: All items in this nonprofit gift store, from aprons to ornaments, are classified as "fair trade," meaning they support the creators with a living wage.
"It's about breaking the cycle of poverty, teaching people how to use bank accounts," store founder Robin Merrill says. "Our goal is just to be one different option, a healthy option."
Merrill began working with missionary groups in the Philippines as a college student, eventually moving there full time. After years of teaching women in shelters to create crafts and selling them in bazaars, along with creating her own art, she left Manila for medical reasons.
"Ever since I got there, I knew I was having problems with the pollution and my lungs," she says. "I'd been back and forth [to the United States] for health reasons, but the type of damage I have now is such that I can't go back there to live."
She and husband Mark Merrill moved to South Florida in 2001, where they saw a new market for the tropical art. They began selling items in a church before finding their current Las Olas space in March.
Editor's picks: Christmas ornaments made from wood, velvet and fabric scraps ($3-$5); blank greeting cards with neon leaves made from abaca plants ($3.50-$5); "Stop the Traffik" jute fiber laptop bag ($25); and framed watercolors by artist Luis Gabriel ($250).
Handbag heaven: There are turquoise, aqua and orange tote bags ($25) — created from recycled fish food bags — that are big enough to hold a laptop and several books, and support Hagar International's efforts in Cambodia. More neutral-colored bags ($30) from Puresa Organics are made by women in Nepal who have escaped human trafficking. Some messenger and makeup bags are created by the XSProject, a group that works with trash pickers in Jakarta, Indonesia. These bags ($15-$75) are created partly from materials such as toothpaste wrappers and juice boxes.
Pricey pieces: The Upper Room Art Gallery is where Merrill displays the more expensive pieces, including oil paintings, handmade bamboo lamps and wooden sculptures. Check out the deep purple paper/bamboo lamp by Wendy Fernando-Regalado ($300), and "Rosemary," a deep red oil-on-wood painting by Mark Merrill ($12,000).
— Sarah Darville
Mission Gifts & Upper Room Art Gallery
Address: 1200 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 4-10:30 p.m. Friday; 5-11 p.m. Saturday; 12:30-3 p.m. some Sundays, or by appointment
Owner: Robin Merrill
Contact: 954-828-1505; upperroomartgallery.com