Erika Righter had thought about opening a store for years, a place that would combine shopping with philanthropy. So when she lost her job as a social worker, she saw it as the right time to create Hope Tank on Santa Fe. The concept of the shop is simple: Local artists sell their work -- clothing, jewelery, children's accessories, fine art -- at the shop, and a portion of the sales benefits a charity chosen by the artist. "One of my missions with the shop is also to educate people about all kinds of issues that are going on in the community," Righter says.
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Righter, who is now a social worker for Arapahoe County working with teenagers coming out of foster care, is passionate not only about helping people but also about inspiring others to help. When she attended South by Southwest in 2011 and saw keynote speaker Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes, she was inspired by his business model. "I started thinking, 'Well, that's really smart. How can I do that locally, support local art but also local charity?'" Righter remembers. "I thought the artist district would be a great place to do so."
She opened Hope Tank a year ago, and will be celebrating the store's first anniversary on First Friday with drinks, snacks, new items and artists at the shop. The concept is still evolving. "Monetarily, we're not having huge donations. It's much more about inspiring people to want to do something more than they're currently doing," Righter says.
"The artists choose their charity; I want that to be something that matters to them," she adds. They support big charities like Habitat for Humanity, but Righter places emphasis on helping smaller, local charities as well. "I'm more interested in just, will these people benefit from what we're trying to accomplish?" she notes.
The model allows consumers to help out a cause without much effort. "It's really easy, it's like you were going to buy a baby gift anyway, why not buy something that helps out somebody who does this for a living?" she asks. "And then, just by virtue of buying that, you're helping a charity." Although most of the items are handmade by local artists, she is also bringing in work from companies around the country at the request of the community.
"People ask me, 'How are you making any money?' And we're not yet, but we've raised quite a lot of money for these charities, given what a small place we are," Righter says. Sales are important, of course, but the most important thing to Righter is inspiring people to help their community. "My long-range goal is, if we can show that this is a successful model, then you could do this anywhere. When people get inspired that way, it's very contagious," she says.
Now that the shop has been open for a year, Righter wants to start using the space for events. "I want people to come and do a book club or a shopping night or private fundraising events," she says.
As a business owner, social worker and mother, it's hard for Righter to balance all of her responsibilities. But to her, the juggling act is worth it. "People think I'm a little crazy because I've bitten off a lot, but that's what brings me joy. I adore when somebody has the light go on and they figure out how they can help," she says. "And sometimes it's as simple as making a purchase here, but sometimes it might be something much bigger. I really enjoy connecting people to something that they are passionate about."