To call the Dedham Exchange an old standby of the Greater Boston area would undersell what it means to its devoted customer base. The artisan gift shop, which has been in Dedham since 1914, and has stood the test of time serving the community that keeps it thriving.
Ahead of the holiday season, we asked Boston.com readers to reflect on the local businesses they most love and several of our readers named the Dedham Exchange as one of their favorites. Their finely-crafted gifts bring customers to the store, but for some readers, its the mission of the place that keeps them coming back.
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The Dedham Exchange, which has been located in the same building for more than 70 years, sells handcrafted goods made by local artisans and prides itself on giving back to the community. The store is volunteer-run and uses its proceeds to donate to local charities.
“It’s such a nice community spot. People really like to be involved,” said Jennifer Mitchell, who serves as a member of the executive board and the head of commercial buying. “It’s just a nice group of people who want to be able to give back to the community and want to be involved in some way. We work hard in the shop and then all the money that we earn goes back out into the community.”
The original Exchange opened in 1914 under the name Contentment Tea Room and Women’s Exchange as one of several women’s exchanges in the country and was one of the few ways women could earn an income. At the store, women could sell and swap their handcrafted goods at a time where there were few avenues for them to do so. Since then, the Exchange has been in several locations in Dedham but has always remained a place to find handmade items.
Today the Dedham Exchange represents about 200 artisans who hand-craft everything from ceramics, glassware, woven textiles, and woodwork, to local honey and handmade soaps and more. The shop is still a member of the National Federation of Woman’s Exchanges to this day.
“The Exchange supports local artisans and gives proceeds back to the community! Gifts are unique, the shopping experience is relaxed and friendly. It is run by a dedicated volunteer group of women and staffed by women, too,” said Elsie A. from Dedham.
Every purchase made at the store is a contribution to a local nonprofit or charitable organization. Seventy percent of the money from sales goes directly to the local artisans, and the rest goes toward donations to the local high school, the Dedham Food Pantry, the Westwood Youth Commission, and other groups.
Like most small businesses, the last year and a half of the pandemic was an especially difficult time. The store was forced to close its doors and make do with limited curbside pickup when lockdowns began. For volunteers like Mitchell, the main concern was for the artists and handcrafters who sell their goods through the Exchange. For many of them, the store was a primary source of income.
“We really, really struggled. We wanted to be able to stay open to continue to help support our artists,” Mitchell said. The store leaned on grants from local banks and the continued support of volunteers and customers to continue operating.
With the worst of the pandemic hopefully behind them, the executive board is looking ahead to changes that they hope will allow them to expand their customer base and offerings. The Exchange recently redesigned both its website and the interior of the store, and for the first time, now offers online shopping.
What makes us unique is that people are able to come into the store and see our unique items, but now to keep up the trends we did launch our online shop,” Mitchell said. “We continue just to try and find new and unique items by new artisans to help them get started in their business and have different products available to our shoppers.”
For those who do want to visit their brick-and-mortar store, Olivia H. from Needham praised the shop and its volunteers for creating “a warm, friendly, and helpful shopping environment, where unique gifts can be purchased at reasonable prices.”
Surviving the pandemic is just one obstacle in the Exchange’s long and storied history, said Mitchell.
“We’ve survived quite a few economic cycles and quite a few other situations and we just keep plugging along like the little engine that could,” she said. “It’s a little red barn that keeps on going.”
The Dedham Exchange is open for business Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and has an online store. Visit the shop at 445 Washington St. in Dedham.
This store is one of the dozens of local businesses recommended by readers as among the best in the Greater Boston area. See Boston.com’s continuously updated list of local businesses and nominate your own here. Find the businesses listed in the interactive map below.