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Arkansas gift shop sells handmade items by artists with developmental disabilities

The Blue Umbrella might look like your average gift shop, but step inside and you'll quickly find it's anything but.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — From the outside, The Blue Umbrella might look like your average gift shop. But step inside, and you'll quickly find it's anything but.

The store sits in the lobby of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) building located at 7th and Main Street in Downtown Little Rock.

Every item lining the shelves is created by the people DHS serves.

"Everything is made by individuals with developmental disabilities," Shannon Roberts, DHS business planner, said.

The work of Melanie Dickey, 23, is featured in the store.

"I've been doing art since I was little," Dickey said. "I've been always working on it and I enjoy drawing and painting."

Her Christmas canvases are a hit. She also creates other items, including jewelry and home decor.

"It was always just her outlet — kind of her therapy," Melanie's mom, Kim, said. "She's just come so far with it. It is exciting that she has this opportunity."

And every sale sparks joy too.

"It makes me excited and happy that people like to buy my stuff that I created," Melanie said.

Each individual artist makes 100% of the profits brought in by their work.

"It gives them a source of income," Roberts said. "There's a lot of pride that goes into it. They are so excited when they know someone has bought one of their items."

Inclusion is at the core of the store's mission, as it also provides employment.

"We are committed very much to providing employment opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities," Roberts said. "Right now, our staff members who usually work in the store -- they're not able to work because we're making sure that we create a very safe environment and we'll bring them back when it is safer to be here in the store."

The Blue Umbrella is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The store is taking a number of safety precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes allowing people to shop by appointment in-store and virtually.