“I’m not big on subtle,” The Blue Marble owner Cathie Walz said.
It’s clear that this is the case. Upon walking into Thornes Marketplace in Northampton, one of the first locations that stands out is her shop. The bright purple sign and eye-catching planet Earth logo grabs the attention of shoppers. One step into The Blue Marble, and your eyes will catch the variety of colors, sparkle and designs of the products.
Have you ever heard the expression: “They think the Earth revolves around them?” For Cathie Walz, it’s just the opposite. Her business revolves around Earth. “When I decided I wanted to open the store, I couldn’t find a name that exemplified what I was trying to do.”
Her sister, Sherry, asked, “What is your vision and what do you want to see in the store? What kinds of things do you want to carry?”
Cathie explained, “I described to her that I wanted ethical sourcing and sustainable when possible. She called me the next day and explained that the ‘Blue Marble’ is what the astronauts called the Earth when they saw it from space the first time. That resonated with me.”
Sherry’s husband John, a graphic designer, quickly came up with the business’s planet logo. Cathie shared, “Thanks to Sherry and John, we had our store name.”
Cathie opened the first Blue Marble shop in Amherst in 2007. Since then, the business has expanded to a second location in Northampton.
It was about four years ago when Cathie decided to expand The Blue Marble to Northampton. “I had a couple of different people approach me about spaces that were becoming available in Northampton and it seemed like a logical next step to have a second store here. Luckily, there was a space opening at Thornes on the second floor. We started our second store three years ago upstairs.”
This past summer, The Blue Marble moved downstairs to the first floor of Thornes Marketplace.
Cathie shared, “We are thrilled to have moved to the first floor this summer, where we have tripled our floor space and it’s been wonderful. We’re really happy here.”
Cathie explained that retail has always been a passion of hers. “I had worked for a short time at another business in the Valley and realized that I really loved retail and hadn’t worked in retail much in my life. When an opportunity arose for me to rent a space in Amherst in 2007, I did a little soul searching and decided this is what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a shopkeeper. My husband was on board and I made the leap to open the Amherst store.”
Since then, Cathie has filled The Blue Marble with a number of unique and colorful gifts. From self-described “funky and chunky” jewelry to clothing and everything in between, Cathie prides herself on the variety of items from around the world that occupy the shelves.
Cathie always has her first focus on fair trade, handmade and US made. According to the World Fair Trade Organization, “Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.”
Cathie explained, “That’s always our first preference and first choice when buying.”
The Blue Marble carries a number of products from around the world, including products from Canada and Italy, scarves from India, hand-mosaicked lights from Turkey and sculptures from Africa.
As Cathie shared, ““I spend an inordinate amount of my time trying to find things that aren’t already represented in the Valley.”
While The Blue Marble features several international products, the shops also have a focus on local. The shops carry local items including baby clothing and coats handmade by a Hadley-native seamstress, handbags by a designer from the Berkshires, jewelry by Northampton resident Rebecca Rose and paintings from a local painter.
Cathie said, “We never have enough local vendors, I’d always like more.”
When asked about her favorite items found at The Blue Marble, Cathie had difficulty narrowing it down to just a couple. Among her favorites are small bronze statues from Burkina Faso called “Celebrating Women.” Cathie explained, “Each one is one-of-a-kind. They’re dancing or celebrating and each one makes me smile. They’re just joyful. They’re made using the lost-wax process, meaning the mold is actually lost in the process of pouring hot metal into it. That’s why each one is one-of-a-kind.”
Another of Cathie’s favorites is Zulu basket weavings. “They are traditional Zulu weaving techniques, but they are done with telephone wire, a non-traditional material. The workmanship in them is amazing. They are very bright, colorful and cheerful.”
The basket weavings also keep with Cathie’s dedication to fair trade. She shared, “The folks I buy from are very committed to the welfare of the artists that they work with. They take a very personal approach in working with these artists and making sure that they are well compensated, work in healthy environments and get the health care they need. They take fair trade to the next step.”
Cathie seeks new items to carry at The Blue Marble from several outlets including trade shows and customer referrals. She shared, “There are many, many, many resources that I tap into when I find items and I am always looking for different things.”
A connection with the community and her customers has made owning The Blue Marble a dream come true for Cathie. “Being in retail in the Valley has offered me an opportunity to meet people from all over the world because we have such a diverse population here with all of these schools, students and professors from all over the world. To be able to establish relationships with people is very important to me.”
Cathie keeps this mindset when seeking out new products for the shops. “You get to know people and their preferences and their needs. In fact, when I buy, most of the time I pick up an item at a show and I have to see one of my customers with that item to know that it’s something that’s right for us. I’ve established wonderful friendships through the stores that I feel blessed to have.”
The Blue Marble carries items that put a focus on customers of all kinds. “Here in the Northampton store, we have enough space to accommodate a small area of clothing and a majority of that clothing is also fair trade. I’ve made a commitment to myself that, if we are going to be carrying any clothing lines, that they fit the average size woman, which is not a size six. Half of the women in America are over a size fourteen. So when I buy clothing lines, I buy lines that are available from a size small to hopefully a 2X.”
As The Blue Marble continues to get settled into its new location in Thornes Marketplace, Cathie says she hopes to see the business grow. She shared, “I would like to see us continue to grow and establish new relationships with customers. Return on relationship is something that’s very important to me in addition to return on investment. I’d also love to have more US made and more fair trade.”
With the growth of the company, it’s already certain that The Blue Marble has brought a little piece of the globe to Northampton and Amherst.
For more information on The Blue Marble, please visit thebluemarble.biz. The Blue Marble is located at 150 Main St. in Northampton and 191 North Pleasant St. in Amherst. Hours for the Northampton location are Mon-Wed 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thurs-Sat 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sun. 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.