Friday, August 22, 2014 · 9:36 p.m.

Where was Charlie? Planet Altered

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Planet Altered is one-stop, globe-shopping central for Chattanooga. (Photo: Staff)

Just as poring over a globe or world atlas can unearth new personal revelations about unknown lands, the nooks and crannies of Planet Altered are brimming with surprises from all over the world and right here in Chattanooga.

The storefront on Main Street has carved out an intriguing niche for itself since opening three years ago. In addition to operating as a retail space for fair trade merchandise from more than 30 countries, the shop hosts weekly craft projects and adult and children’s art classes and serves as a creative meeting location.

“This is called a community space,” said Jean Huddleston, manager of Planet Altered. “It's here for the community to use as it will.”

On the map
Very early on, Planet Altered made the focus of its inventory fair trade, which means those that produce or create the items made of sustainable materials are provided fair wages and safe working conditions.

The shop finds individual artists and organizations through the Fair Trade Federation. Amid the veritable treasure trove of jewelry, toys, decorative items, artwork, woodwork, scarves, purses and countless other pieces are items such as handmade wallets by women in India to ensure their children rise from poverty, soapstone hippos carved by artists in Africa and necklaces strung together by women in Rwanda gaining the tools to become financially independent. 

The store's shelves are stocked with fair trade products perfect for everyone on the Christmas list. (Photo: Staff)

Planet Altered also supports charities such as Charity: Water and local organization Empty Bowls.

The walls of the store are hung with the work of Chattanooga artists, including painters Miki Boni and Shaun LaRose, photographer Lamar Phillips, metalist Denice Bizot and mixed-media artist Susan Creswell.

Huddleston explained that the motivation behind narrowing the gallery’s scope to local work only centered on cultivating organic connections between the individual artist's fans who might discover something new upon a visit to the Southside locale.

Adding to the creative vibe, the Jumpstart projects are craft activities that change weekly. A small fee—$2—provides access to a well-stocked cart of supplies for creating, say, a Christmas card. 

In addition to offering development through the traditional art classes, Planet Altered deals in the educational vein of shopping. When school children visit the shop, Huddleston asks them about their heritage and is typically able to find an item in the store that is also from the children’s families' country of origin. What follows is a game to solve the riddle of the item’s composition. 

“What is this made of?” she will ask them.

The children guess away, eventually settle on the correct answer and then learn about how the particular item is made. Through the tantalizing process, the students unknowingly learn about another country and a place very far removed from their own reality.

“It really opens up the world,” Huddleston said. “It’s neat that they can touch, feel and experience in a real way.”

Although adults do not usually play the same game, she noted that people appreciate purchasing a gift with a meaningful background. She often has requests for the story behind the item. 

On the block
For this weekend’s Mainx24 festivities, Planet Altered is getting in the Christmas spirit. 

The warm brick walls are home to dozens of local artists' work. (Photo: Staff)

Local organization Widows Harvest Ministries, which provides assistance to widows in Chattanooga and Kenya in the way of repairing or building homes, will hold its silent auction. The fundraiser for the charity’s projects features items such as a beachfront condo vacation and a rental voucher for the St. Elmo Fire Hall.

The inside shop will officially open at 6 p.m., but until then, there will be plenty to occupy shoppers’ attention with ways to stock up on fair trade merchandise and check the charity box off the Christmas list. 

The Winter Holidays around the World, Secret Holiday Hut and Unusual Gifts that Keep on Giving events will offer glimpses into global holiday traditions—dreidels and gingerbread houses—and a private market for children to spend $10 of their well-earned allowances to buy Mom and Dad a Christmas gift and a wealth of charities to contribute to on behalf of a friend or family member.

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