Store hours: Mon.-Fri.: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sat.: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tea room hours: Mon.-Sat.: 11:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Cherry dresses and that famous salad: two things The St. Louis Woman’s Exchange is famous for. But beyond the tea room and darling garments, GM John Bantle says, is so much more.
The Woman’s Exchange was created 130 years ago, with the mission of helping women who help themselves. Destitute women were encouraged to sell their handmade goods through the shop, giving them a chance to earn a livelihood and support their families. Today, the nonprofit works with approximately 150 needy consignors—women and men, though still mostly women—from across the country. Applicants receive approval from the board of directors to become consignors, and the organization then provides them with patterns and supplies to make the creations. Many consignors depend heavily on this income, Bantle says. “We have one lady in Tennessee who’s so poor she couldn’t even afford the postage to send us the stuff,” he says. “We would send her fabric and give her a prepaid postage envelope so she could send it back to us. People don’t know that while they paid $100 for a dress, a portion of that goes to help people.”
Consignors also use their skills in the Woman’s Exchange kitchen. After the tea room closes for lunch, consignors are invited to use the kitchen to make baked goods, which are then sold in the store. Much of the boutique and kitchen is staffed by volunteers who greet guests as they stop by to snack or shop. Bantle says employees and volunteers go to great lengths to help customers. “We had a lady who used to come in, and lives in Massachusetts now,” he says. “All she’s been doing is asking her daughter when she’s going to the Exchange. So we overnighted her three Exchange salads. We will do anything for anybody to make them happy.”