Skip to Content

After 36 years, sun sets on Sunshine Imports


 by Firella Otero

After 36 years of housing State College’s one-stop shop for cultural, educational and fashionable items from around the world, Sunshine Imports is closing its doors for good.

Throughout its long history, the store has offered customers a taste of far-away cultures by featuring exclusive handmade jewelry, organic clothing, colorful tapestries and one-of-a-kind items.

"I have always been interested in other cultures," said founder and owner Pam Steckler. "When people can enjoy other cultures, artwork and a little bit of an ethnic style, then they have a closer connection to other people."

Sunshine Imports is a lovingly tended boutique with a pleasant and welcoming aura. It’s a place for those with a palate and curiosity for other cultures, as well as an eco-friendly mentality.

Despite the store’s rich and successful existence, Steckler was unable to find someone to continue the business.

"I feel kind of sad, and my customers feel the same way," Steckler said. "It is definitely much harder to stop than to start a business."

The store opened its doors in 1972. It was originally located in an old white house on Frasier Street. Steckler lived in the back room and operated the business in the front of the house for three years, before expanding and moving the store to its current location at 127 E. Beaver Ave.

Awareness of environmental and social concerns has always been a part of the Sunshine Imports mission. Earth Creations, a product line featured at the store, emphasizes the use of natural fibers such as hemp and organically grown cotton, as well as other materials grown without pesticides. The U.S. company dyes fabric with clay, which Steckler called "environmentally ideal."

Steckler described herself as an alternative voice in State College.

"I am an anti-capitalist capitalist," she said. "I am my own worst enemy."

The ambiance of the store is decidedly different that that of impersonal big-box retailers.

"I feel like Sunshine Imports has been a unique place for people to come and feel like their dollars aren’t going to a big corporate place to build another ‘Sprawl-Mart,’" Steckler said.

Products at Sunshine Imports come from fair-trade providers. Fair trade is a movement to ensure self-sufficiency for artisans and merchants in underdeveloped nations.

Many of the sellers Steckler works with own their own products. She chooses the finest items from each importer to ensure consistently high quality.

Steckler’s sales approach is to help customers see the value of the store’s unique objects and to appreciate the effort that goes into handmade jewelry and clothing.

"That’s how I have always done my work," she said. "I want others to be able to keep something timeless."

Steckler said she doesn’t worry about a target audience. She enjoys running a store that can appeal to a gamut of ages.

"My customers are individual thinkers and people who like to be different," she said.

Running Sunshine Imports has also been a great learning experience for Steckler.

"I learned all about garment fabrication, jewelry-making, being able to tell quality from handmade to machine-made," she said. "I am self-taught, considering I have never taken any business courses."

There is no exact date that the store will close, but Steckler predicted that the final day will be in June.

Despite Steckler’s reluctance to see her life’s work come to an end, recent health problems have made the decision an inevitable one.

"I’ve been tired. I was hoping someone was going to purchase the store and continue, but I need to take care of myself," she said. "After 36 years, it was the most difficult decision I had to make."

Steckler plans to sell all of the items until the store closes. There is a 20 to 80 percent sale on all merchandise. If some items remain unsold, she will sell them on the Internet.

For the store’s last hurrah, Steckler made commemorative T-shirts with the Sunshine Imports logo, which are available at the store.

Steckler is pleased that people will remember Sunshine Imports through the keepsakes that they have purchased. She said she hopes people remember the store as a special and unique place with good aesthetic energy.

"I hope that throughout the years my customers gained some cultural interest with a little environmental twang," Steckler said.

Dr. Radut | page