Kansas City Women in Business | Jan Buerge, World’s Window

In February of 1976, the nation of Guatemala awoke to a nightmarish, 7.5 magnitude earthquake.  Most of the adobe-type houses in the region collapsed entirely.  Tens of thousands were injured or killed, and 1.2 million became homeless overnight.  At that time, Jan Buerge and her husband Lonnie were living in Florida, working with the Mennonite Church to assist in disaster relief efforts after a hurricane.  Because Jan had experience studying and volunteering in Columbia, and her husband in Nicaragua, they were asked to go to Guatemala to help rebuild the communities.  They accepted, and packed up from the abandoned warehouse where they were staying in Florida and headed to Guatemala.  There, they lived in tents for several months and helped the people rebuild their lives.

They were newlyweds, only months into their marriage.

Jan remembers her village as very dusty, a place where they had to spray daily for fleas, with only mountain stream water to shower in.  The water ran into large tanks, and they waited until the afternoons to bathe in the hopes that the sun would warm the water in some degree.  However, she waves off the living conditions and speaks warmly of memories and people.  In particular, she remembers watching the women weave.  In Guatemala, she explains, you can tell what village a woman is from by the way her huipil, or traditional top, was woven.  Huipiles are created using backstrap looms, which were tied to a tree or the corner of a house on one end, and secured with a strap around the woman’s back on the other end.  She watched women kneel for hours, often with babies on their backs, weaving intricate designs into their tops.  One woman wove her a top as a going-away gift, but fell and broke her arm halfway through.  Her young daughter picked up where her mother had left off.  “I couldn’t tell where she stopped and where her daughter finished it for me.”  The women in the village sent her home with many other small weavings, woven with words of remembrance of the time she spent there.

Jan’s stories fascinated me for over an hour.  An astute woman and a natural storyteller, she used her hands to underline and explain important points.  Its as if she carries volumes of history inside her, like books just waiting to be opened.  She impressed me not only by the confident way she runs her business, but through her service-based motivations that continue to drive World’s Window 27 years after it opened its doors.

Jan and Lonnie in their Market Stall location

World’s Window sells crafts that are as interwoven with personal stories, histories, and cultures as the huipiles of Guatemala.  World’s Window began as a five by fourteen-foot market stall in Westport.  The tiny stall soon burst with handmade crafts from artisans around the world.  They moved locations several times, “growing serendipitously,”Jan says, “as the opportunities came along.”  World’s Window is now a 3200 square foot store, residing happily amongst the boutiques of the Brookside shopping district.

World’s Window gathers and offers comfortable, organic clothing, beautiful art, and handcrafted home decor.  Over the years, they have worked with over 1200 companies to purchase crafts that have been responsibly sourced from around the world.  Although the store has expanded from its small beginnings, it is still crammed to the corners with dazzling, beautiful goods.  “If people are interested in incorporating into their lives things that have a story, then this is the place for them to come explore.”

I sat awash in Jan’s many tales, stories of fundraising for Habitat for Humanity and benefits for the local women’s shelter, raising two children while running a successful store, serving on boards of community groups.  As she sketched her life journeys for me, it stood out that one of the keys to her success is her ability to keenly evaluate her situation and priorities, and be honest about what comes first.  Jan’s first daughter was not yet two years old when they opened their first little shop, a time when she was working until “two, three, four in the morning.”  Despite her business commitments, Jan and her husband both made firm decisions to be “very involved” in their children’s lives.  And they were.  When the high school swim team faced disbandment for lack of a coach, Jan stepped in and took the reins – despite not knowing much about running a competitive swim team.  To do this along with managing a store, she was both realistic and honest with everyone around her.  Instead of burning out trying to “do it all,” she set up a collaborative way of running the team, pulling support from parents and team members alike.  Her excellent staff stepped up at work to help run things while her time was diverted elsewhere.  Because of her realistic approach to her schedule, the store still flourished and girls on the swim team made it to state.

Jan’s advice to other mothers running their own businesses is that they need to “Really pay attention to their hearts as to what balance they want,” and make sure that their priorities are fully incorporated into their business plan.  For some that might mean scaling back, or hiring staff, or taking less income in return for more time with their children.  Being realistic about your time, personal needs, and priorities is critical for setting up a long-term business.  Even when done successfully, balancing motherhood and a business is very difficult, Jan says, but very fulfilling.  “It’s been this big adventure we’ve been on for 27 years now.”

And look where the adventure has led:

I am in love with this:

All the World’s Window details:

Where is it?   In Brookside, Kansas City’s oldest shopping district!  World’s Window is located at 332 W. 63rd St, Kansas City, MO 64113

When can I go?  Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm, Sunday 12pm – 5pm

You should also check out the World’s Window display at the upcoming Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Street Festival, put on by the Mattie Rhodes Center.

Where can I find more information?  You can call them at (816) 361-2500, email them at info@worldswindowkc.com, or visit the World’s Window website at http://www.worldswindowkc.com

Come back next Friday to learn about a woman who handcrafts her products right in her store – and how they can solve all of your gift-giving dilemmas!

Jonathan Brazee - September 28, 2011 - 11:29 pm

Jan,

You have told me a bit about your store, but I never realized the entire story. You have my heartiest respect for making an impact on this world, which is not something very many people can really do.

Jonathan Brazee
Silk of Siam

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