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article imageOp-Ed: Sonoma Thrift store helps those in need in Rwanda Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Jul 1, 2014 in Business
Sonoma - In need of something stylish, or something casual? Something for the house or something for the yard? Are you looking for a collectable, either rare, unique or even valuable? Well, then stop by Bon Marche.
"Bon Marche, in French that means 'Good market or as people here in the States would say, good deal, a good bargain," said Bon Marche, owner Anna Bimenyinama. For the past seven years Bon Marche has been the place in Sonoma for people to buy a wide-array of thrift store goods. No stranger to the retail market she had experience being an export shop owner and manager in Sonoma. "I was working 60 to 80 hours a week, she said and doing well." Yet even with that success, Bimenyinama really wanted to focus on helping her loved ones in her homeland of Rwanda.
The front entrance to Bon Marche is always filled with lots of stuff  large and small that people dr...
The front entrance to Bon Marche is always filled with lots of stuff, large and small that people drop off to donate.
For the past three centuries, Rwanda has struggled for peace, stability and unity as it has suffered from political turmoil, colonization and genocide. Once a colony of Germany and then Belgium, Rwanda has managed to recover from the scars of so much conflict and turmoil. And, since 1994 has gradually built and maintained a stable government officially known as the Republic of Rwanda.
A largely rural nation with lots of agriculture, Bimenyinama noted, "when I first arrived in Sonoma, I was taken in by Sonoma's natural beauty. So much of it's rural setting, the mountains, hills and cows reminds me of home in Rwanda." Traditionally, the population has always been close to the land. Yet even with a strong agricultural history and custom, malnutrition is still an obstacle to the health and well-being of the people.
Clothes of all sorts are abundant at Bon Marche  everything from casual and leisure wear to formal a...
Clothes of all sorts are abundant at Bon Marche, everything from casual and leisure wear to formal attire.
As Julie Carney, co-founder and director of Gardens for Health International, explained, "Malnutrition, worldwide robs an estimated 170 million children of their health and future." "Malnutrition is a contributing factor in over a third of all early childhood deaths in the sub-Saharan area of Africa."
"In Rwanda, 44 percent of the child population under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. It is staggering," she said. Bon Marche sends its proceeds to Gardens for Health International in the work of providing aid to health clinics and farms to help ensure a stable and healthy future for each Rwandan child.
Large items like furniture and accessories are also abundant.
Large items like furniture and accessories are also abundant.
"We currently work in eight partner health centers, reach over 960 families annually and reaching out to more than 4,800 children. Our aim is to restore their health and to stay healthy," said Carney.
This humanitarian effort is close to her heart, something that Bimenyinama wants to support and help galvanize. She is grateful that Sonoma customers have been so generous with donation of clothes and other goods. "Look around, you can see Bon Marche has all sorts of items. We get things everyday," said Bimenyinama.
And, while this reporter was there on assignment for The Sonoma Sun, more than a dozen customers were there, looking at the various merchandize and buying. "Bon Marche has sales and specials everyday, often we discount merchandize anywhere from 50 to 70 percent off."
Some items at Bon Marche are indeed a treasure and the store is always having some sort of sale each...
Some items at Bon Marche are indeed a treasure and the store is always having some sort of sale each day, where items are discounted from 50 to 70 percent.
Gypsy Beggs is a frequent customer. "I come here from Napa and I am always finding deals," she said. Beggs describes her work as "furniture reclaimed." She in a sense rescues quality old furniture and gives it new life. "I have my own special palate of paint colors and varnishes that I designed," she said. Beggs also has an eye for fabrics and knows which type of fabric works best with a piece of furniture.
Beggs like many others who frequent the store, often negotiate prices. "I don't mind working out a price for an item," said Bimenyinama. "Like any retail shop, my aim is to move any and all merchandise. Yet, my mission for this endeavor is to raise money for Rwanda."
"Anna is fair and reasonable and it all goes to a good cause," said Beggs. Long-time resident, Kathy Ostram agreed as she was looking for a few items. "I like to come here first before going to a department store or a hardware store. There is always something here that will fit what I might need or want. And, best of all, said Ostram its helping others in the process."
A nice collection of miniatures can be found at Bon Marche as well as dishes  flat ware  linens and ...
A nice collection of miniatures can be found at Bon Marche as well as dishes, flat ware, linens and even drapes.
Bon Marche literally has merchandize lined up outside the door, waiting to be sorted, priced and displayed. "People here are can be very generous," said Bimenyimana. Yet, she explained that while Bon Marche is doing well and expanding, "We also have to manage overhead costs and pay our employees a living wage."
She laughed a bit when she said, "you know when I was making arrangements to open Bon Marche, the owner of the building did not think I would do any business." "The owner initially insisted that I take one of the smaller spaces and reluctantly I took it. But within less than a year, I had outgrown that space and had to move to this spot."
She explained that with all the sorting, cleaning and pricing of items, she will again very soon need another space with more square feet to accommodate the ever-expanding merchandise operations.
One of the most difficult obstacles related to overhead costs is having to take items to the dump. "We really don't want to waste anything. So much of what people bring to us can find a new life. Yet, often we get items that are junk and we have to take it to the dump and that costs," she said.
While Beggs found a lamp with crystal prisms, and Ostram found a toy piano for her grandchild, Bimenyinama pointed to some of the really fine items she had. "This is more than just a thrift store, it is also like an antiques shop.
She pointed to a blue willow saucer that upon closer inspection was part of a Royal Doulton fine chi...
She pointed to a blue willow saucer that upon closer inspection was part of a Royal Doulton fine china set. "That's like something from the home of Hyacinth Bucket, she said with a laugh, the main character from the BBC series "Keeping Up Appearances."
"I liked watching that show when I was in Europe," she said, explaining a bit more about her life. "I was born in Rwanda and then went away to school in Europe. After graduation, Bimenyinama went to Canada where she met her husband."
He was from Sonoma and talked about it being a paradise. And, when he brought me here, I knew why he thought it to be like paradise." "I too see Sonoma as like paradise. I wake up in the morning and I see the hills, mountains, fields and vineyards and I believe I am in a bit of heaven, doing the work I enjoy, coming to the store everyday," she said.
In addition to helping the children of Rwanda, Bon Marche also helps fund micro loans to women in Rwanda. With the help of proceeds raised from sales at "My Girlfriend's Closet," a consignment shop in Sonoma, women in Rwanda have the opportunity to go into business for themselves and radically change the quality of their of lives.
"What we do here is not just about selling thrift store items and a place for people to donate stuff, we are changing lives, especially the lives of woman and children," said Bimenyinama. For more information visit the Bon Marche web site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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