Every downtown, if it’s lucky, has one shop where people know they can find special items for celebrations and special occasions— whether it be baby showers, weddings, birthdays or graduations.
For a decade, shoppers in Sherman knew the Women’s Gift Exchange on Kelly Square to be just such a shop. The gift store, founded on the ideals of giving back to the community, recently closed its doors due to the shutdown caused by COVID-19.
Carolyn Nicholson said the WGE was “originally the brain-child of the late Honey Minshew. Honey had shopped for years at St. Michael’s Woman’s Exchange in Dallas’ Highland Park Village and felt that Sherman could have a gift shop that operated the same way: board members and friends would buy gift items to sell in the shop, and when the items sold, board members would get their money back, with the net profits donated to charity.”
So, Minshew gathered friends together and the first board of directors began creating the Women’s Gift Exchange, which opened in September 2010.
“The first board members were Carolyn Montgomery Nicholson, President; Sara Reid, Vice President; Vickie White, Secretary; Jeannie Graber, Treasurer; and Nancy Anderson, Keri Steele, Margaret Kloppers, Mia Munson, and of course, Honey,” Nicholson said. “Rui Emerson was part-time manager. Sara Reid created the logo and motto: ‘… for goodness sake.’ During the 10 years WGE was in operation, many wonderful women served as board members, and each one helped staff the shop as a volunteer.”
She explained that the store was called the “Women’s Gift Exchange” because it was a member of the Federation of Women’s Exchanges, a consortium of gift shops originally established to provide an outlet for women to sell their handmade goods.
“The founding of the first Woman’s Exchange in 1832 marked the beginning of what is the oldest continuing women’s movement in the country,” Nicholson said. “During its operation in Sherman, WGE was one of only two exchanges in Texas, the other being St. Michael’s.”
But the store didn’t just stop at featuring the unique and clever items purchased by board members. It also featured the work of local artists and artisans who made jewelry, paintings, cards, home décor, toiletries and other items for sale in the shop.
“WGE felt that this was an additional way to assist local arts and the local economy,” Nicholson said.
For every year in the decade that WGE existed, the group donated money to a number of local charites, the only stipulations being that the charity be in Grayson County and be registered with the state of Texas as non-profit (501C3).
“The first year, the board was thrilled to be able to give $1,000 and worked to increase that amount each year. All in all, approximately $90,000 was dispersed to Grayson County charities during the past 10 years,” Nicholson said.
Local nonprofits that received funds over the years included Grayson Literacy Team, the Green House, The Dining Car, Children’s Express, Visions of Sugarplums, Kid’s Pantry, Divine Equine Therapeutic Riding Center, Meals on Wheels, Share Taking it to the Streets, Family Promise, SCP Theatricks, Home Hospice of Grayson County, Grayson College Foundation, MasterKey Ministries, Child and Family Guidance Center, Grayson County Child Welfare Board, House of Eli, North Texas Youth Connection and Habitat for Humanity.
Leigh Walker at Family Promise said their organization was honored to use funds provided by WGE to provide services for homeless families in the area and hotel stays for families in transition. Once Family Promise was up and running, WGE funds were used to enhance the lives of children in their program by providing extracurricular classes.
“We paid for things like soccer lessons, art lessons, voice lessons— things that help kids have a more normal, well-rounded life that they wouldn’t be able to have as a family experiencing homelessness,” Walker said.
Habitat for Humanity of Grayson County is another organization that benefitted from WGE funds. Habitat’s executive director, Laurie Mealy, said it was hard to see WGE close.
“It made me heartsick,” Mealy said about learning that the store was closing. “Habitat was one of the earliest recipients of their donations. They did a special event for us on Valentine’s (Day) in that very first year, I think. Since then they have funded tools for us.”
Mealy said funds raised by WGE helped Habitat buy thousands of dollars in tools and safety equipment.
Part of the funds WGE donated came from its annual fundraiser, Tablescape, where local entities designed elaborately decorated tables for viewing, followed by a silent auction, luncheon at Fulbelli’s, and fashion show by Sandi’s.
“The event became very popular locally and was sold-out every year,” Nicholson said. In addition, the group also sponosored Artapalooza events and wine and cheese evenings to raise money and awareness about local nonprofits.
Ending all of that fun wasn’t easy.
“We volunteers have grown to know and love our community, but our current board members simply couldn’t come up with a formula to get us through the current economic situation,” said Honey Minshew’s daughter, Monica Cowset, about the pandemic.