When parcels opened inside the Liberty Tree Mall, it was with the intent of bringing something special and unique to shoppers, while shining a light on the creative minds behind the products.
The retail shop sells products made by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities or autism, or social enterprises that employ them. It is staffed with individuals served by Northeast Arc, enabling them to learn valuable retail skills.
“The concept was to highlight the skills of people with disabilities or autism through products that people can touch and feel and enjoy in their homes,” said Tim Brown, Northeast Arc’s chief innovation and strategy officer.
Gracie’s Doggie Delights, for example, is operated by an enterprising young woman with Down Syndrome who loves dogs. Avery Skaggs, a non-verbal, abstract expressionist artist from Alaska, has been painting with his fingers all his life. And Pennsylvania-based Highland Chocolates is a non-profit chocolate factory and retail store that provides vocational training and employment for adults with disabilities.
Brown has cultivated relationships with more than 100 individual artists, social enterprises or small businesses from across the country—and even some worldwide. His efforts have raised the profile of each entrepreneur, and contributed to their financial success.
“We purchase everything outright at wholesale prices, so those businesses are seeing profits right away,” said Brown. “Any profits we make are really covering the costs of the store and allowing for the interns to have an environment like this to train in.”
Brown, who has been with Northeast Arc for more than 30 years, was selected to receive the Program Innovation Award during this year’s convention of the Arc of the United States. The award, presented by the National Conference of Arc Executives, recognizes chapters that have designed and implemented creative programming to address the unique needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their community.
In addition to launching parcels in October of 2020, Brown simultaneously helped to launch the Center for Linking Lives at Liberty Tree Mall. The Center represents 26,000 square feet of inclusive program space for all of Northeast Arc’s community-facing initiatives. It is a novel approach to the reuse and revitalization of mall space, and is a valuable way to make sure individuals served by Northeast Arc are not just in the community, but are part of the community.
“When we opened the Center for Linking Lives, we wanted to have something that would engage customers as well,” said Brown. “Every downtown used to have a store where you could just walk in and find a gift that would be cool and different. We are now that store.”
parcels also offers corporate gifts such as food products, self-care items, jewelry, wooden pens, art, candles, stationary and more. Companies or individuals can even shop for custom gift baskets.
“Our staff loved the bags and appreciated supporting adults with disabilities through parcels,” said Catherine Gravel, executive vice president and founder of GraVoc, a Peabody-based technology-consulting agency. The company hosted a mid-year meeting in August and created gift bags for all staff members. “Many said they were going to go do some holiday shopping for others.”
“Cathy and I had the opportunity to visit parcels before they opened to the public and learn a little about their mission as it pertains to Northeast Arc,” said Mary Bellavance, GraVoc executive assistant. “We were totally fascinated with the unique variety of gifts they had to offer. We were delighted to find that one of the many perks of shopping at parcels is the staff enthusiastically assisted us in crafting the perfect bag. Fast forward three months and GraVoc staff is still raving about the body butter, popcorn, candles, jam and candy.”
“We’ve become a destination store for gift giving,” said Brown. “We’re still getting our feet wet, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
parcels is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. To schedule a personal shopping experience, email email@example.com. For more information or for a virtual tour, visit ne-arc.org/parcels.