Shop Talk: Glassybaby offers one-of-a-kind votive


ONE-OF-A-KIND SHOP AT STANFORD ... It's hard to imagine that an idea for a store at Stanford Shopping Center had its beginnings when Seattle resident Lee Rhodes was diagnosed with cancer for the third time. During Rhodes' cancer treatment, she recalls meeting in a hospital waiting room patients that could not afford even the basic necessities, such as bus fare, child care or groceries.

"It was a real revelation. Although I had the support and care from friends and family, a lot of these patients didn't have anyone," she said.

One day while entertaining friends, Rhodes dropped a tealight into a glass cup. It provided a soothing and comforting atmosphere and it was then that the glassybaby, a hand-blown, one-of-a-kind votive, was born. Her first glassybaby store started in Seattle in 1998. Rhodes, still affected by the suffering she saw, decided to donate 10 percent of all retail sales from her glassybaby business to charity.

"That policy was in place from day one," she said. And the business has seen explosive growth in the 18 years since the first glassybaby store opened. Today, eight stores later, nearly $4.5 million has been donated to needy organizations from the store's retail sales. "We are painfully aware that we are giving away 10 percent of our revenue," Rhodes said, admitting that the 10 percent policy may not be considered the ideal business model. "But giving away ten percent is the mission and motivation of this company."

Several Bay Area organizations that have already benefited from Rhodes' generosity from her glassybaby sales include Stanford Women's Cancer Center(at Lucile Packard), Part the Cloud (Alzheimer's), and the Ronald McDonald House. Other local partnerships include Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, College Track, Stanford Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program.

Of the eight glassybaby stores, four are in the Seattle area, and another four in the Bay Area, the newest of which is the Stanford Shopping Center store. "We had tried for years to get into the Stanford mall and we were finally able to get a space last year," Rhodes said. But the current space, at 2,200-square-feet, is not ideal for her shop. "We do much better in smaller places," Rhodes said. So next month, glassybaby will move into a smaller space at Stanford, into the newly developed area on the east side of the shopping center, near Bloomingdale's.

Glassybaby focuses on mainly one product -- its one-of-a-kind glass votives. "All of our glassybabys for the Bay Area stores are hand-blown by local artisans in Berkeley," she said. It takes four artists to create one glassybaby, which sells for $44. The approximately four-inch colored glass votive comes with its own tealight and its own story card, which contains a short, inspirational message written by Rhodes' 24-year-old son, Mericos. Each glassybaby is given a name, such as Cherish, Compassion, or Triumph. Of the approximately 250 glassybabys in the store, there are also names like Wingman, Blue Thunder and Master of the Universe.

"A lot of people suggest names to me, but I find it's easier if I just name them all myself," Rhodes said. The store's bestseller is a glassybaby named Skinny Dip. "I don't know if it's popular because of the name or because of the color. It's a beautiful deep teal that becomes a lighter shade, almost two-toned, when lit," she said. There is another set of glassybabys on display that is called The Exotics. Selling for $75 a piece, these votives require a special process by the glassblower to create. Some of The Exotics have a double overlay of brilliant color; others have a gold metallic finish on the outside of the glass. "They're exquisite," Rhodes said.

The store also has a newer product that evolved from the original glassybabys, called The Drinker. Like the votive, it comes in a variety of colors, with a variety of names and as the name suggests, it holds beverages. The Drinker has a $55 price tag. Although some may scoff at what they consider a high price, Rhodes emphasizes that it takes a team of artisans to make a single glassybaby.

"And it is a beautiful gift to give someone because of the inspirational message that each glassybaby comes with," she said. "The message can often say things that that the gift giver cannot."

Got leads on interesting and news-worthy retail developments? Daryl Savage will check them out. Email

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