Who needs elves at the North Pole?

Gifts at Just Goods near downtown South Bend come from real people in Guatemala, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States, including local artists.

You might even find a like-minded friend in the home-style shop on East Jefferson Boulevard that focuses on fair trade, fair
labor, organics, sustainability and eco-friendly consumer goods.

You could keep the clothing, jewelry, green household products you buy; give them to family and friends just because theyre nice items; or add a gentle explanation of why such purchases are important.

"We have a lot of things that people just need," says owner Becky Reimbold, adding that, like most retailers, her busiest months are November and December. "It's a bigger buying time."

"They buy their own things as they need them. They buy gifts for people they know will care. And they buy gifts because they care. Some of them have the intention of educating family and friends. Some don't. Its quite a mix of
intentions."

Reimbold's intention was to help a group of women in Ecuador who were seeking a U.S. outlet for their products.

"I was looking for places to shop with my conscience," she recalls. "I was looking for places where I could feel good about the things I was buying, as a person who is aware of labor issues and environmental issues behind the production of our goods.

"I never thought I'd be in retail. I met a group of women in Ecuador who was looking for a market for their goods. I didn't find a lot of options so I decided that was something I was supposed to do. That was the spark."

She opened the store on Mishawaka Avenue eight years ago and moved to the East Bank Village last year.

"We probably have over 40 vendors, four or five continents and many countries," Reimbold says.

The selection ranges from jewelry, wallets, dresses, sweaters, gloves and greeting cards to toothbrushes, cleaning products, paper towels and reusable shopping bags and food containers.

"We have a real assortment," she says, pointing out the multiple advantages of packing lunch without plastic bags. "That's a great way to be sustainable and kind of a trend. More people are packing their lunch for health reasons, too."

More people are sharing the social and environmental concerns that led her to open Just Goods, Reimbold says, and the new locations increased exposure has helped.

"There are a lot of people in this neighborhood that are really committed to being downtown and working together," Reimbold says. "It's a very friendly business environment."

Tribune Business Weekly