BEFORE there was Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, there was the Butter Paddle. The kitchen and housewares gift shop opened in 1967 in downtown Saratoga and has been going strong ever since. Now after almost 44 years, the store has moved to North Santa Cruz Boulevard in Los Gatos.

The Butter Paddle is run by volunteer women, and all proceeds benefit Eastfield Ming Quong (EMQ) Families First. EMQ represents the merging of two children and family services agencies: Eastfield Home of Benevolence (founded in San Jose in 1867) and Ming Quong Presbyterian Mission Home (founded in San Francisco in 1874). Eastfield began as an orphanage providing shelter, care and education for local homeless youth. Ming Quong rescued Chinese girls from slavery and prostitution in the alleys of San Francisco. The two agencies merged in 1987 and were later called EMQ Children and Family Services.

The store bailed on Saratoga after steady declines in foot traffic and retail sales. Food traffic on Big Basin Way in Saratoga is all but nonexistent. (You hear that Saratoga City Council? More businesses will leave the downtown, and there will be nothing left unless you come up with a plan to attract and retain businesses.) “We’re all about making money to give children, and our sales were dropping year after year,” says Carol Gruetzner, EMQ auxiliary president.

The new store opened Oct. 30 and business is great now. So how does a little store with just one location compete with the malls and retail giants like Macy’s and Williams-Sonoma? “We buy products the public likes, number one,” says Gruetzner. “That’s the secret of our success. We change what we sell all the time.”

Because volunteers run things, the 68 women who staff the store are deeply passionate about the work they do and what they sell. “We get to feel good about giving to the children,” says Gruetzner.

Of course the lack of labor costs give the Butter Paddle a strategic advantage over for-profit retailers. But that’s what makes the store so cool. You could go to a mall and give your money to a store that’s in business to enrich itself or you could support a store with deep community roots that’s in business to improve the lives of children. For me that’s a pretty easy choice to make.

The Butter Paddle
33 N. Santa Cruz Blvd., Los Gatos