Channeling Kathleen Kelly

Subject: change
Date: 2/10/98 10:30:13 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: Shopgirl
To: NY152

People are always telling me that change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is that something you didn’t want to happen at all has happened.

My store is closing this week. I own a store. Did I ever tell you that? It’s a lovely store– and in a week it will be something really depressing, like a Baby Gap.

Soon we’ll just be a memory. In fact, someone, some foolish person will probably think it’s a tribute to this city, the way it keeps changing on you, or the way you can never count on it, or something. I know, because that’s the sort of thing I’m always saying. But the truth is, I’m heartbroken. I feel as if a part of me has died, and my mother has died all over again, and no one can ever make it right.

—Kathleen Kelly to Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail


I worked in a quilt shop.  I think I’ve told you that.  I’ve worked at Dragonfly Quilt Shop in High Point for a little longer than two years.  It’s a lovely quilt shop.

And at the end of December the store will be no more.  By January 2017, it will be nothing but a lovely memory.  The owners will continue to vend at quilt shows up and down the east coast, but the store front – the place where a group of women met one Tuesday out of the month to make chemo quilts for the Hayworth Cancer Center of High Point Regional Hospital, the place where Tuesday night Sit and Sew held open court, and the location of countless classes and hundreds of friendships will shutter and close forever.

Unlike Kathleen Kelly, I don’t feel like this is progress, or a tribute to High Point and the way it’s changing.  I feel like it’s just another infringement of big box stores and the mecca of on-line ordering once again killing off another small business.  Chalk another one up for rampant internet consumerism and the deliberate neglect of a brick-and-mortar-blood-sweat-and-tears retail store.

And if you’re smugly thinking to yourself that “Things are so much cheaper on-line,” and “I can shop in my jammies,” ponder this for a hot second:  Quilters in High Point thought that, too.  And now there are no fabric shops in High Point.

My nearest quilt shop is now 20 minutes away in a part of Greensboro I rarely find myself in.  It is out of the way and inconvenient and their customer service leaves a lot to be desired.

I am angry.   But even more than that, I am sad.  I am heartbroken.  I feel as if a best friend has left me and I will never see her again.  I know it’s silly to think of a store as that, but I did.  I could be having a terrible day at my “real” job, but the minute I’d walk in there, I could feel the stress roll off of me in waves.

It was good for my soul.

And so this long good-bye has begun.  The fabric has been marked down.  Most of the fixtures have been sold.  My quilting studio is now home to a dozen or more bolts of fabric that I had to have.

I’m treating every Sit and Sew from now until December 20 as nearly a sacred event.

I searched to find statistics of exactly how many quilt shops had closed in 2015, but that figure eluded me.  What I did find out from a slew of former quilt shop owners is that there generally is a formula that keeps a quilt shop open for a number of years, but not forever.

The first part of the formula is the financial basis of the owner.  If the quilt shop is owned by a retired couple, chances are everything else they own is paid off and they’re probably dipping into their retirement to fund her or his dream.  If the quilt shop is owned by a younger person, chances are that person’s significant other has a well-paying job that supports them as well as helps to fund the purchases made for the store.  Neither one of these facts make me very comfortable about either type of owner’s financial future.

The next part of the formula is that the quilt store owners do not rely solely on fabric sales.  It’s the sale of sewing machines that fatten the bottom line and make a store financially healthy.  But this is an investment.  A serious investment.  Most sewing machine manufacturers will require the store owner to purchase either so many machines or a certain dollar amount (read thousands of dollars) in order to carry the machine line in the quilt store.  And most sewing machine lines will not allow more than one store in one geographical area to carry that product.  They do not want their collaborators to compete with one another.

The last part of the formula is that the successful owners do not rely solely on their fabric and pattern suppliers.  They will design their own line of fabric and their own patterns and carry them exclusively.  That means the owner either needs to be very creative and comfortable in the “art” part of quilting or hire someone who is.

And it is extremely beneficial if the quilt store owner actually owns the building their shop is in.

On the other side of the quilt shop formula stands the quilter.  And the quilters must share the blame of the local quilt shops closing.  Even if the owner does everything that I’ve listed, if the local quilter doesn’t step up to the plate, the local quilt shop is doomed before it even opens its doors.

We quilters have got to overcome the mentality of “buy it now and buy it cheap.”  I know, saving a few dollars is a great thing, but cheap fabric means more than just cheap-looking quilts.  That cheap fabric is lessening our experience as quilters.

The local quilt shop is more than just a shop.  It’s a meeting place.  I’ve often said that Dragonfly was my Cheers (the bar from the sitcom…google it if you’re confused).  Everyone there knew my name and I knew everyone there.  It’s a place for sharing and classes and bees and a thousand other things that support and foster the fellowship of the quilter.  When those shop doors close, we scatter.  Hopefully there are guilds and bees that we can still see each other at, but we have to remember for the majority of our quilting history and future, quilting is a social event.  It’s a place for fellowship and support.  It’s a place to claim our victories and lament our defeats.  It’s a place of celebration and a place to ask for prayer.  With every quilt shop that closes, many of us immediately turn to our computer for support.  We find on-line groups and Facebook pages.

And suddenly we’re quilting in anonymity.

I wish beyond wishes right now that I could wave a magic wand and all the local quilt shops could stay open and be financially healthy.  But I can’t.  It’s impossible for that Mom and Pop Quilt Shop to compete with a mega-million dollar industry like MassDrop, or  The LQS can try all kinds of tricks and pull in nationally known teachers and promote all kinds of sales; but in the long run, it’s up to us as fabric and notion consumers to change our mind sets.   We need to get rid of the thinking “She who dies with the most fabric wins,” and instead carefully cultivate and plan our stash.

It’s up to us to initiate the change that we have a responsible part for in this formula and switch our habits.  We need to perhaps buy a little less on line and be willing to pay a little more at our LQS in order to support it and make sure it keeps its doors open.

One of the comments I heard over and over again from the “regulars” at Dragonfly was “You don’t have anything new in this week…”

Let me explain a little quilt shop math at this point.   When fabric is sold, yes, you do have to replace it.  However, the shop has to sell enough fabric (and notions and machines) to cover general overhead cost before it can invest as much as the owner would like to in new fabric.  The rent is paid (this is where owning your own building can be so beneficial), the utilities are paid, the employees are paid, the taxes are paid, and the insurance is paid.  From whatever is left, you first have to restock basics:  neutrals, notions, etc., before you get to the fabric that everyone wants.

And depending on how substantial your bottom line is, that is the tipping point of getting anything “new” in.   So when you walk into the shop and that’s the first thing out of your mouth, then evidently there has not been enough profit in the sales to do a whole lot.

The solution to this is that the quilt consumer has to look around the shop with new eyes and see what’s there in a new light.  Buy some yardage and make a quilt.  Then the next time you come in, maybe there will be something new.

Change your perspective.  Change your buying habits.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead

And I’m not asking for the whole world to change.  I just want our local quilt shops to stay open.

 Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


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