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Faces of BKS: World's Window

Before opening their own imports store at a tiny window storefront in Westport in 1984, World’s Window owners Jan and Lonnie Buerge traveled the world.

A Heritage of Service
Jan Buerge, OwnerJan’s love for the community comes from a family heritage of serving others. Her parents served as missionaries in Puerto Rico.

Jan attended Bluffton College in Ohio and studied social work and took art classes. She lived in Colombia for a semester and her husband Lonnie visited Nicaragua for a semester to build a water pipe system. “Both of us valued that kind of travel,” Jan said.

They got married in April of 1975, quit their jobs that August and traveled and volunteered under the Mennonite Disaster Service as social workers. Their volunteerism took them to positions in rebuilding projects in Florida, Atlanta, and eventually Guatemala, where Jan became fascinated with the work of the women there.

“As a woman in Guatemala, I was not allowed to help build the adobe houses,” Jan said. “So I watched the woman weave instead. I was fascinated by watching them weave on back strap looms. It was an interesting time. That was when the seed was planted.”

The went back to northern Indiana after 3 months in Guatemala and Jan started her masters within a year.

From a Window to a Storefront
In the early 1980s, Jan helped her church with their fair trade craft store. After quitting her job working at a corrections facility and staying home with her child, she began volunteering at the church fair trade store.

That grew into World’s Window. They opened their Westport window front in 1984. It was basically a market stall in Westport, next to where Californos is now. It was only 5 feet deep and 13 wide, with a sliding window–a literal window to the world.

They continued to grow and expand, eventually moving to Brookside in 1997. “We live about eight blocks from Brookside and decided to move closer to home,” Jan said. “The space was available, so we took it. We totally gutted space, redid the plumbing, and put in a handicap accessible bathroom. We wanted to present the store in a different way.” And they’ve been in Brookside ever since.

“We came into this because I think there are fabulous, wonderful artists out there,” Jan said. “We wanted to find a way to help people develop crafts and a livelihood that is sustainable. For many people around the world, it’s the only way they can change their living situations. And it’s sustainable for Brookside and gives me a platform and space for awareness. We are part of a bigger world. We want to wear beautiful things. We want to feel good about ourselves and be a part of the world.”

World’s Window has enriched Jan and Lonnie’s lives more than just the store, Jan said.

Goods for Good
It's no surprise that the Buerge’s background in social work has greatly influenced their store.
Whether it’s helping with the most recent natural disaster relief or an annual drive, the Buerges are quick to offer assistance. World’s Window’s 20th-anniversary party of raised enough money to build a house in the Dominican Republic.

"We do it so that our business day doesn't go along as just another business day, but rather we can step into this thing and make a difference and ask people to come with us,” Jan said. “That is very fulfilling, that what I work so hard at makes a difference."

Jan has raised money for the Rose Brooks Center for over 10 years. Her charity work with them has now evolved into two events annually. Her spirit of generosity is shared by her customers as well.

"Customers kept coming to us and saying they wanted to trade their clothes back in," Owner Jan Buerge said. "They love our clothes, but they had grown out of them and wanted to give them to people that would love and appreciate them as they had. Rose Brooks came up in conversation, and this whole thing became a clothing drive."

As the clothing drive became a regular event, the Rose Brooks Center's needs also evolved. Now the spring event is one big blow out sale, with 10% of proceeds going to Rose Brooks. And the winter Coat and Sweater Drive provides much-needed winter apparel for women at the shelter, who have often been victims of domestic abuse, leaving abusive situations with only the clothes on their backs.

"It's a woman-to-woman connection that our shoppers love since most of them are women," Jan said.

Brookside is Home
The Buerges lived in Brookside for 10 years before moving their store here.

“I love that it’s full of owner-occupied stores and small businesses are supported by the neighborhood,” Jan said. “We can't exist here unless the people of Kansas City value small business. Clearly, the people love it here.”

Jan said she’s thankful to Mary Lee, who helped Brookside become sustainable as a CID. “She helped business owners embrace the value of small, boutique business. Since then there has been a wonderful mix of people stepping into a small business. I love being a part of business here, annual events, knowing other merchants, and participating in the art fair. We jump on events like the Wine Walk.”

“In these smaller business areas, we have to join together to do these events and welcome people into the neighborhood and have a walk-around area in a neighborhood that feels like a small town,” Jan said of the Brookside area. “There’s huge value to that. Brookside has embraced our events like Rose Brooks and Habitat for Humanity fundraisers. We feel embraced and supported by the community here.”

Over 20 Years of Business
Jan hopes that spirit continues. “I’m really hopeful that there will be other businesses started by people younger than I am,” she said. “I hope that they will see the value of Brookside and what it is. I’m delighted to see what's happening with Brookside East. I love seeing younger-owned businesses in Brookside that are supported by the neighborhood. It's a lot of work. You live it and breathe it.”

Jan loves the daily change of life as a Brookside business owner. “I am involved in other people’s lives just by how much I run the business, by what I buy, and in the way, we relate to customers. I don't know that I would have attached that to retail until I owned a business. I like being a boss, making decisions, and coming up with ideas as opposed to working with somebody else. It’s very rewarding. I’ve worked with and developed friendships with vendors who I've gotten to know and discovered cultures through art and garments. Every day I learn something new. I work with a variety of people who have come to be a part of World’s Window.”

Jan said that her staff is like family to her. “Della, our manager, gets it,” she said. “She works her tail off helping me make our mission happen, gently reminding me of the path that we’re on, and calming me down.”

The hardest part of owning a business is the swings in economic times, Jan said. “We built back up from the 2011 recession out of sheer willpower.” She gets close to the staff and they become a part of each other’s lives, and sometimes staff changes, and that’s hard, she said.

“It’s sad to see people go, but exciting to bring new people in,” Jan said. “A business is clearly a living, breathing thing.”