The Star Bazaar: Helping the Marginalized While
Generating Income for the College
Around 1993, when Bethlehem Bible College’s leadership purchased a new building, they started a small gift shop to generate extra income for the College. Dr. Bishara’s wife, Salwa Awad, started the shop. It was just a desk with a few shelves behind her; customers would point to the items they want.
Through the years, different people managed the shop, until Anita took it over and made it thrive. Anita is our beloved Gift Shop Manager, who works with passion for developing the shop. She always thinks out of the box to create new and unique products that people love.
“When I took over, it was a cupboard and another table with a few items in it. With Dr. Bishara’s permission and with the shop managing skills I have, I decided to expand the shop to create some real cash flow for the College.”
The Star Bazaar’s Mission
Initially, the gift shop’s main mission was only to supplement College operations with some extra funds. As the shop became more successful, they decided to also support student scholarships. Now they impact the Bethlehem community as well. When choosing their vendors, they work with the Shepherd Society and support people in the margins by developing their products and selling them in the shop.
The Star Bazaar gift shop supports fair trade. About that, Anita commented: “It is my value and principle to treat everybody fairly. When you push the prices down, you cannot expect the people living in the margin to survive. If we have the mission to support struggling people, how can it be fair to push the prices down? Fair trade makes sure that we are paying them a reasonable price for their products, as well as ensure that they can work in a very healthy environment. Many of them did not [work in a healthy environment], so when we support them, we can enhance their environment in a small way.
“It is also a Christian value and principle, and as a Bible College this is what we try to do – to live out our faith toward our community as well as all our customers. It is just fair to let them pay a reasonable price for their products.”
Tourism was one of the main fields in Bethlehem affected by the pandemic. Our gift shop suffered (and is still suffering) from the Coronavirus as well.
“Our income has been drastically reduced because of the Coronavirus. We lost around 15 groups in March alone. As a result, the income of the shop has decreased by 90%. We also didn’t receive any groups in summer. Even online orders have decreased due to people worldwide trying to hold on to their finances because nobody knows what the future holds.”
Plan B – Online Shop
Anita says that she and her assistant never really had the chance to focus on an online shop because so many groups have visited them. They were focusing mostly on the daily operation of the shop itself.
“Since we also lost our online customers, we decided to develop the website by studying digital marketing and getting the shop more known to the community out in the world. In contrast, now we are trying to update the website with new products, and we opened up a Facebook page that we are focusing on.”
What Makes the Star Bazaar Special?
About what makes our shop unique from other shops in Bethlehem, Anita says: “Ours is unique because we focus on the vendors that are sitting on the margins and do not have much exposure to other jobs, simply because other retailers don’t pay them a fair price. Secondly, we have developed many new products that you cannot find in any other shop. We encourage our vendors to think out of the box and bring new items into the world of tourism. Most of the customers, especially ours, are not focused so much on religious items but are looking for more practical items. That’s what we are focusing on.”
More Than Just an Online Shop
The idea behind this store is to simulate the experience of a Palestinian Bazaar. As anyone who has visited the Middle East knows, shopping is never just about transactions and exchanges. It’s about relationships. We hope that you would get to know the artisans behind these beautiful items. The Star Bazaar is a connecting point. A place where you form relationships with Christians in Bethlehem and the Holy Land.
Shop now from our Star Bazaar: www.starbazaar.bethbc.edu.
Amira is the Communications Coordinator of Bethlehem Bible College. She is a committed Palestinian Christian who has a passion for writing about the intersection of faith and seeking justice for her fellow countrymen. To read more of her writings sign up for Bethlehem Bible College’s monthly newsletter.