OCEAN SPRINGS – Lynne Bassier and her husband, Joel Bassier, emigrated from South Africa to the U.S. in 2000, bringing only two suitcases each with them at the time. And although Mrs. Bassier wasn’t born in the U.S., this is a merchant with a mission to help employment and the economy of the country she has adopted and loves by opening a store, F.A.B. America (For America by American), that sells only products made in the U.S.
This past November Bassier opened the shop in a small house at 1218 Government Street in Ocean Springs, an area that is popular for retail, restaurants and clubs. You can tell from the outside that there is something a little different about this store wrapped in red, white and blue.
The difference is that every product is made in America, including products like jeans that most people might have thought aren’t even manufactured in the U.S. anymore. The goods being sold have to also pass her test for being durable, a good value, and cost less than $100.
“When you buy an American-made product, it comes with a guarantee,” Bassier said. “People are starting to understand if you buy an American-made product, you are going to get value for that money. Where are you going to be able to buy bake ware or stone wear that has a lifetime guarantee? The clothing is guaranteed to not run when washed.”
Bassier got the idea for the store because she was taking trips back to South Africa to visit her ailing mother, and friends and relatives kept asking her to bring something made in America.
“I went through Walmart for two days and didn’t find anything made in America,” she said. “Everything picked up in Walmart was made in a different country. I saw a Diane Sawyer program on ABC News about made-in-America products, and decided to make it a project to see if I could find enough things made in America to open a store.”
The Bassier’s engineering business was flooded and destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, and they decided against reopening it. Their home also flooded, and they lived in a FEMA trailer for two years while restoring their home. After that was done, Bassier was looking for a business that would suit her personality and desire to help others, especially veterans. She has a son and son-in-law in the military, and volunteered at a homeless shelter for veterans. She saw how many of them had difficulty finding jobs.
“I got to know the veterans, and I wanted to help them,” Bassier said. “For me, it is important for people to have jobs. We could create a lot of jobs if people would start buying more products manufactured here in the U.S. It creates jobs and income for people. And for me, opening this store was also a way to give back to a country that has been good to me. You can come into this country, work and sacrifice, and accomplish a lot of things.”
Bassier has not just a great personality for retail, but also a gift for displaying merchandise. Flags and other decorations in red, white and blue can be found throughout the store, and each room in the little house has been themed to certain types of merchandise. For example, she knew she had to have a kitchen in the store because she wanted to sell house wares and kitchen wares.
Finding sources for quality, American made products wasn’t easy at first. But she found a lot of help by joining a non-profit organization called TAP (Tolerance, Americanism and Patriotism) America, which provides a business directory of companies with made in America products (http://tapamerica.org/made-in-america/shop-american/).“TAP America believes that the only way to help stimulate our economy is to buy goods and services made in America to keep the jobs we have and to create new ones for the more than 14.8 million unemployed in our country,” TAP’s mission statement says. “Now more than ever, we need to buy American. When you support ‘Made in the USA’ products, you support our workers and our economy. Increased sales mean increased jobs, and more people at work means that the American dream will be back within reach for thousands of Americans.”
Some of the items Bassier carries includes jeans made in Texas, a variety of types of clothing from North Carolina, shoes from Atlanta, jellies from Mississippi, candles from Missouri, Bully Tools garden tools made in Ohio, bake ware from Kansas, canned goods from New York, Roy wooden toys for children made in Maine, and Rada Cutlery from Indiana.
Local offerings include Pleasant Barbeque Sauce from a local restaurant, work from local jewelers, and unique turtle-shaped pool floaties or cushions made leftover sailboat fabric by a woman in Gautier.
Customer response since the store opened has been very positive.
“People love the store and ask me to open a similar store in their little town,” Bassier said. “Also, I’m having fun and I’m meeting lots and lots of wonderful people. I would like to put two stores like this in every state in the Southeast. They would be similar to the first store in a little house that feels very personal. I’m going to slowly grow it and see where it goes from there. I just need someone who has lots of money to help me expand.”
She is also in the process of opening an online storefront for F.A.B. America.
Should Walmart watch out? Well, that is all up to consumers. But Bassier does think there is a place in the marketplace for a store that appeals to people’s sense of patriotism and desire to help the economy by reducing unemployment through purchasing more goods made in America.
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