Support the Little Guys


This post has been quite some time in coming. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot and something that has taken a toll on me since becoming a brick and mortar shop owner. But it has to be said and I have to tell you why.

I’m going to be 100% honest. My brick and mortar business, as of right now, is in some choppy waters. There are many reasons for that, but one of the biggest reasons is that we need more enthusiastic customers supporting small business. Now let’s not confuse this with my online shop which is doing marvelously. I’m proud to be able to offer supplies, notions and fabrics to customers worldwide. It’s one of the reasons I felt that opening up a brick and mortar would be the next step. Crazy thing is, these two types of businesses could not be more different! It’s been a huge wake-up call for me, on so many levels. I’ll be honest about that too – it’s almost broken me. Yup. There has been so much fallout – personally and professionally – from becoming a brick and mortar shop owner that I’ve been right on that edge of jumping ship with basically my entire life as I know it right now. Oh my goodness! It’s HARD!

It being hard for me though is not the reason you should support the small businesses in your area. Those problems are my own. However, unless we want the world of apparel sewing commerce to be eaten up by those big box chain stores the world over, we all need to become part of the solution. I can’t tell you how many times in a day I hear customers come into my shop and say, “Gosh, you have such lovely fabric. Why doesn’t anyone else carry these types of fabrics anymore?” I think that’s a great question. But I think the more important question to ask, in my humble opinion, is “Why do we keep those big box stores in business even though they don’t carry the kinds of fabrics, notions and supplies that we want?” Now, believe me. I know that so many of you live in an area where those big box stores are the only stores. And granted there are many things still that we as a small business are unable to offer that the big box stores can offer, just by virtue of being so big. Doesn’t mean I, personally as a shop owner, am not working to improve that. Just means that I can’t provide everything right now (like buttons….). I don’t have the full answer to all of this right now, but supporting the little guys first will give us a fighting chance at survival.

Over the fall, I was on a You’ve Got Mail kick. So apropos considering what I was about to face! If you’ve never seen the movie, it sheds light on the exact situation I find myself in today. The idea that small business – one that is driven by service, knowledgeable staff and quality product – is not what we as a society want. We want the cheap. We want the affordable. We want the discounts. We want everything! No matter the cost! I have to tell you what the cost is.

In this scenario, the cost is, my shop will close. That means that everyone who comes to us because they want actual bridal lace or actual lace in general, or they want actual silk (not polyester labeled as silky) or they want actual wool, or they want cotton that is actually as smooth and lovely as silk, or fine linens or high quality double knits and knits will be forced to go to those big box chain stores and make do. Sure there are a few diamond in the roughs that can be had there, but what is that compared to an entire shop that is a diamond in the rough? Not only that, our expert advice and help will not be available. Our classes  – which are far more than just making a pair of ill fitting pajama pants – will not be available. Our service will not be available and instead you can stand, fuming, in line waiting for your fabric to be cut at one of those big box chain stores.

I’m going to say it again. Please, please support the little guys! Support us! Give us a chance first and I can promise that you won’t be disappointed. You may not find exactly what you need from us, but we’ll have such a great time scheming and giving you some expert guidance that you’ll come in again, just by virtue of knowing that we not only deliver the goods, we deliver them with a smile and a sewing tip!

Now weigh in! Give me your feedback. I’ve given you mine, from the viewpoint of a slightly strung out shop owner. I only ask that you please be respectful – but hey if you don’t agree with me here, tell me why!


93 thoughts on “Support the Little Guys

  1. Thank you for your post. Consumers need to be reminded. We are doing it to ourselves. Consumers think that the little shops will always be there. It is just not true.
    Sorry you are a little strung out! 🙂 ( I live in Canada)

  2. Oh, don’t encourage me to get on my soapbox. I think the homogenization of America will continue unless we do begin to support the little guys. The problem is that I live in a big city, and there are no little guys! I think there has been a perfect storm of events with fabric stores. Sewing wasn’t very popular, and people could not make a go of it in a storefront, so most of them closed right when the pendulum was beginning to swing in the other direction. And the fabric store phenomenon is following the trends that began in retail, the one where everyone wants everything cheap, ridiculously cheap. Then the economy tanked; so many things at once to work against the little fabric store! Hopefully people are beginning to swing in the other direction, but I am very frustrated that I only have a Hancock’s (fleece, lots of fleece), and a Joann’s, (polyester, lots of polyester). I think the situation may require all fabric stores to be online, but I, for one, would not shop for fabric online if there were other options. I want to see it, touch it, dream on it a bit before I buy it. Oops, got on my soapbox anyway!

  3. Your post is so correct about the little local stores. Having been in retail ( retail of different products for many years) I can totally understand. I try to shop at my local shops whenever possible. Some items maybe I can get a little cheaper at the Big Box stores, but I would rather spend a little more and be able to get the other products I use. What would would we all do without the small indepentant retailer? Not to mention the service and convience of not wandering all around a store the size of a football field looking for something. Having your own brick and mortor store is a Hugh responsibility. Forget about sick days. Try to relax and not get too stressed over it.

  4. I TOTALLY agree! In fact, I went to so many craft shows and saw so many talented, small scale artists who work super hard that I started a weekly series. Here’s a link to my Shop Small Saturday Showcase to see the features I have so far, and I have SO many more to come!

    Oh, and if you don’t mind another link, here are my Top 10 reasons that I support the little guy:

  5. Are you familiar with Seth Godin? Great marketing clarity.

    I think the killer app is knowing ME. The big box won’t do that. A little shop that knows me, will know what I want to buy very specifically, tell me about it when I’m able to buy, surround me with people who are like me who are also making those things so that I feel left out if I’m not participating, provide support to my success, and act as a platform to trumpet my accomplishment.

    I knew a yarn shop that did a good deal of this, and managed pretty well for a good while, until knitting started to slump again. (I’m not sure how to be agile for that possibility.) I was very loyal, and bought much more yarn (and did many more projects) than I would have on my own. I made great friends by hanging out there, which was always welcome.

  6. This is killing me. I’ve been unemployed for almost a year now, and haven’t been able to spend the money on good fabric like I want to. I budgeted enough to get some double-knit from you for my trip to Japan (paid for by my severance package from my last job) and I really regretted not being able to afford anything else. You would be my go-to store if I had an income. I really hate this. I’ll do what I can by spreading the word, though!

  7. I totally agree with you! as in my younger days I tried just what you are trying, I was just hoping that you’d have better luck as you are in a much larger city with hopfully a larger client base.
    I hope that your dream can survive! I’m one of the online shoppers so don’t get the chance to visit your actual shop as it is many miles away.
    Just don’t let it ruin your life it’s just too short to be stressed. And we really can’t control what others decide to do with their time and funds.
    The thing that makes me the sadest is at the children of our society may never see, feel or work with really quality fabric.;(

  8. I super believe in shopping local! I feel like from an economic perspective it makes sense for the jobs/money to stay in the community like an awesome feedback loop. I WISH there was a local fabric store in my area! I’ve recently tried to shift my fabric shopping habits as well, away from quantity and toward quality. For me this also intrinsically forces me to sew slower and more meticulously which is another goal of mine! Sew to LAST!

  9. We just had a small fabric store open in our town about a month ago. I am thrilled to say they carry mostly clothing fabric and a little quilting. (Normally everyone is quilting in my area….I don’t quilt). Since her opening, I shop nowhere else. She buys people’s stashes along with her regular fabric. The stash buying is FANTASTIC…..tons of vintage lovely fabric found no where else! I am telling everyone I know because I really want her to stay. Small business is the BEST!

  10. I try to support small business whenever I can. Of the two fabrics stores here (I won’t enter the ‘chain’ one, even tho’ it is a smaller company too) one is an independent and the other has another store in another province.
    I would buy from you, of course. I believe you have to pay for quality.

  11. You are so right. The big box stores carry poor quality in general. They make you wait, then are often rude. I wish there was a quality fabric shop in my area, but the closest is about 60 miles away. So I shop online and hope for the best. At least I have a local yarn shop, and I patronize it though the price may be a bit higher.

  12. So sorry to hear of your struggles dear. I don’t have any words of advice or probably any input that someone else won’t also say. But I do want you to know that I’m sending lovely thoughts your way, that I do everything I can to support small businesses, and I really, really hope that things pick up!

  13. I’m sorry to hear that things are so rocky. I worked at an indie fabric store in college (Hart’s Fabric in Santa Cruz!). It actually closed down while I was working there, and we were devastated. And then thankfully it was bought by new investors and just moved instead. And it’s still there and apparently thriving!

    Since then (and it’s been 18 years since I got that job now, which blows my mind! eeeek!), I have always done 98% of my shopping at indie fabric stores. I buy the occasional fabric online, and I sometimes use a Joann’s coupon to buy something like a rotary cutting mat or fleece, but frankly, the fabric selection just sucks compared to the indie places. I’ve been saying this for years – if we want to HAVE local fabric stores, we have to be willing to spend our money there, even if it isn’t the cheapest place in town. I find I am more choosy and buy nicer things when I buy at full price, and while I might not get the same “discount,” I am happier with my purchases and they feel better thought out. A lot of impulse cheap sales buys end up shuffled to the back of the stash or used to make muslins after the fact.

    Which is to say: You, preacher. Me, choir. I couldn’t agree more.

    1. You are right on, Inder!
      Hart’s was wonderful back then, and it is wonderful now. In addition to a lovely store, they have a great online storefront as well. Half the time I buy from them, I’ll buy online, and the other half, I’ll actually drive to the store. It’s a bit of a curvy drive through the mountains to get there, so I’m not always able to make the drive to the brick and mortar place.

      1. You are in San Jose? I grew up in San Jose. I live in Oakland now, and Piedmont and Stone Mountain (esp the latter) are my go-tos, with occasional trips to Britex. 🙂 I rarely make it to Hart’s these days, but I am so so happy to see them mentioned all over the blogosphere as a great internet supplier. They deserve to succeed. Harts spoiled me for fabric stores … really for my whole life!

  14. I can understand what you are going through. I teach martial arts out of a local Y, but to hope to someday do so out of my own physical commercial space. However, if I somehow do have the money to buy or rent a space, it will cost a lot (and not just money)! What lots of martial artists who own clubs end up doing is sharing the space with other groups (eg. sublease to a yoga class) in order to help cover the costs. Have you considered trying to make more of your space? Like having someone hold regular sewing classes? Sewing group meet ups? Share a little space with some yarn sellers and let them have knitting meet ups? Basically, try to get more use out of the space (without too much extra work for you) and build a community there. That’s what will get people in the physical space and buy your things. This is important, because you are not just competeting against Big Boxes, but also online shopping.

  15. Thank you for being so honest, Sunni. I’m glad that everyone agree with you. I live in an area that is generally prosperous yet two or three independent yarn and quilt shops have gone under, maybe four. But, there are still enough in my town, Raleigh, to always buy local. Now as far as apparel clothing goes there is only one in the area, about 20 miles away. Luckily, I work in that town once a week and can go there. I think the big box stores thrive because so many people do crafts and make quilts. They have sewing needles and knitting needles, etc. But, what strikes me and this happens every time I go into the Big Box is how ugly the fabric is. It just is not nice. Sewing apparel is really hard. I’ve been doing it for years and I do it almost every day and I am the slowest sewer in the world. A dress takes me days and days and days. How can anyone think to spend all the time making something with fabric that doesn’t feel good or is rubbery looking or has bleeding colors. And it isn’t always that much cheaper. I do not understand it. I do not know. Sometimes I wonder if people just don’t know, if what they need is education, to be connected to the history of cloth because the history of cloth is our shared history. It’s the same with everything. We have an abundance of stuff so we buy more cheap things instead of fewer quality things. Education is the key but making it fun is primary. I don’t know how you could do it but I bet you anything if you could show people the difference between a piece of black polyester and black cotton sateen they would never go back. I just feel that. And it isn’t just with fabric. I made my daughter a Wiksten Tova out of Liberty lawn. She never wears it but she’ll buy a 20.00 dress from Forever 21…..heart break! I don’t give up though. She’s going to a wedding and I brought her three pieces of fabric to choose from: a piece of Liberty poplin, a cotton/silk voile, and a cotton lawn. She wants all three. We shall see. You feel those fabrics and it’s like feeling nothing else. I know I’m going on but I don’t even look at the fabric in a big box store — it just isn’t there for me. I go there to get the occasional Big 4 pattern, a zipper, a pair of new scissors. Never ever ever fabric. Ever. Never!!! Good luck, Sunni. I mean it!

  16. I used to work in a small local fabric shop so I know first hand how hard it is to be the little guy, especially in a town with a lot of competition (both small and big box). It’s hard. You constantly have to be on top of trends and try to offer a product that people are seeking. It’s even harder when that market is constantly changing. Granted, it’s a little different when you work in a quilt shop vs a fashion fabric shop but the business practice is the same. Now that I moved, I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. Jo-Anns is my only option and even that is still 45 minutes away! I go there for buttons, zippers, rotary cutting supplies, and muslin fabric when I can use a half price coupon, but I don’t like their fashion fabrics so I don’t buy them. Just the same if I walked into a small local shop and didn’t like their fabrics I wouldn’t buy them either. That’s just how it works. I shop the small online boutiques now that I have no local options. I will always support the little guys first and I have a deep respect for small business owners of all types. Business is not easy and being a small business is even harder. I commend you for giving it a shot and if you’re passionate about it then I hope with all my heart that you will continue to have your brick and mortar shop. But if you wake up and decide it’s no longer your dream then I hope you find the bravery to call it off and follow another dream that makes you happy. In today’s world it seems so much easier to have a successful online shop than to have a brick and mortar one.

    You will continue to be an inspiration of mine and it really saddens me that you’re dealing with these troubles. Unfortunately you’re not the only one. I’ve been there. It’s the worst feeling and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

    Do what makes you the happiest and success will follow, and feel no guilt about whatever that choice may be.


  17. This is such a complicated problem to try to unravel. Like the others who have replied here, I prefer to support local specialty shops, and I always visit local shops when I travel. It can definitely be hit or miss when traveling. It’s often hard to tell what quality and selection a shop has from their informational website.
    I’m wondering if you could make an alliance with other independent brick and mortar fabric stores outside of your area? I’m picturing a group of shops that could promote each other. I would love to walk into my trusted local shop and be able to pick up a flyer with “like-minded” shops in other locales.
    I’m sending positive thoughts your way. Hang in there!

    1. Hi Sunni
      If you were to find yourself in San Francisco or the Silicon Valley for 3 or 4 days, there are a number of shops that I would encourage you to check out. There are some wonderful shops to explore for ideas. I don’t know the owners, but I think some would consider chatting with you so you can get an insider’s view. Here are the most important ones to check out, in my opinion: Harts in Santa Cruz, Eddies in Sunnyvale, Thai Silks in Los Altos, Piedmont in Oakland, Stone Mountain in Berkeley, Britex and Satin Moon in San Francisco. There are other nice shops, as well as warehouse discount places that are individually owned or small local chains. Because of the geography involved it would take a couple of days to hit them all.
      If you were to visit the area and need a tour guide, I’d be more than happy to show you around to any/all of the shops. I’ll give you my contact info if you want it. I’m between jobs at the moment so I’d have time.

  18. Oh my. I could spend my whole pay check on the marvelous things in your shop. What a great place for supplies.

  19. I think a B&M store needs to add more value than we can get online. I love the idea of small local stores. But I can get such beautiful fabric online deposited on my doorstep that it would never occur to me to go my local fabric store except in an emergency. I support the small business owner online, I’ve ordered from your online shop and countless others because I felt good value was given, wasn’t necessarily cheap, but that’s okay. I buy independent patterns also because of good value. I don’t mind paying $15-20 for a pattern because I like that I can email the designer and see a sew along and see everyone on the blogosphere making inspirational and tutorial versions. The only thing that I need a B&M store was for classes. And so I spent many hundreds of dollars on sewing classes (I started with a tote bag). And I thought I got incredible value because there was no way I could learn all that basic construction from a video, I needed too much help building a foundation. But after I reached a certain stage I could learn from video, and then I switched the craftsy and three day workshops (I went with Peggy at Silhouette patterns). When I bought my sewing machine I went with Bernina, because I got not only a quality machine, but classes thrown in by the Sew & Vac. Everything I choose, althought not cheapest, had value to it. And I say this because I hope it gives you insight into my (and probably others) financial decisions. We have a set amount of sewing dollars and we have to decide how to allocate it.

  20. There is a small sewing shop in my area and I love them! They mostly carry quilting cottons but I do try and stop there for things like needles and thread (especially since it’s actually closer to me than a big box store!).

    One thing they do that is really fun is a Stitch and Sip. People come and bring a hand sewing/embroidery/knitting/crochet project and a beverage and hang out once a month and socialize. A lot of times, people end up buying supplies for their projects while they are there so it’s not just a fun hang out for the business owners.

  21. I live in San Diego, a county with more than 3 million people, and we have no small, independent fabric stores. We have Joann’s, and a low-quality, local chain of stores. That is it. The nearest quality fabric stores, of which there are three, are in Los Angeles, 150 miles away. I yearn to shop at a store such as yours, but the last one closed about five years ago, after 42 years in business. I would so love to see the fabrics in person, and touch them before I buy. I would love to talk to a shopkeeper, who knows about sewing, and could advise me on what fabrics and notions to buy, or how to do something that I cannot figure out on my own. I would like to take classes. The stores we do have are so low quality, that I cannot find anything to buy there, except notions. I wish you could move your store to San Diego, as I feel confident our community of deprived sewists surely would embrace you. A local shop is also a place for enthusiasts to meet each other. I began sewing only last year, and don’t have anyone to consult for advice. I rely solely on online tutorials, Craftsy and blogs. I buy all of my fabric on line, and sometimes it is disappointing. I use those fabrics as muslins. I know this comment sounds like “poor me”, but what I am really saying is that I understand and appreciate what you and your store have to offer, and know, from experience, what it is like to do without small, independent fabric stores. I hope your business will pick up, and that you will succeed, but, in a bad economy, many people simply cannot afford quality, even as much as they appreciate it. I wish you well.

  22. I so agree with you! I would much rather pay a dollar (or even ten!) more for something from the lovely shop that is a 15 minute walk from my house than go to a big store that imports everything from China. I tell my local shop that I make the effort to go there because I want them to know that I care. I also drag my friends along to help support them. I have been a small business owner so I know how hard it is and I wish you every success in your enterprise.

  23. I completely agree that small businesses are able to offer so much more in all that matter than box stores–friendly, knowledgeable staff who are passionate! 1 of my 2 local fabric stores have closed within the last year; the owner wanted to retire, but couldn’t find a buyer for his shop. Believe me, I feel the loss!
    That said, I do think we are kind of a niche demographic. Of my closest friends, honestly, not many sew. And sew garments? Just me. Most people who sew start with home dec– it’s like the gateway drug, the stepping stone to hard-core sewing. Fine garment sewing? You need connections and dealer.

    I guess when I think about the amount of people who sew, and the amount of customers needed to sustain a specialty store, I don’t know how anybody makes it work without an online presence to broaden their customer base. Respectfully, you mention your online shop is doing okay; have you considered doing more online with your brick and mortar store? Please know that I’m asking with absolutely no knowledge of what that would take. I just know that I would LOVE to be able to support you all the way from Kansas City.

  24. Gosh – this is tough! We have a great little fabric store (quilting and dressmaking) in my town, but goodness the service is so hit and miss and RUDE sometimes it’s often hard to justify the beating to my self-esteem just to go in there. But it’s a local shop and has great fabric (we’d have to go to the big smoke to get better fabric) and I want it to stay open and I know my hard-earned cash can help that shop to succeed.

    But you know the other day I went in there looking for a fabric suitable for a Moneta muslin, and they were so helpful! And it made me feel so much better about the shop I bought more fabric and I was happy to do that because a) great fabric and b) great service and c) they didn’t destroy my spirit like they can often do.

    And having said that I will always support the little guy over the big guy. Unless they have crappy service or stock in which case I will find a better little guy to support.

    But I am not saying your service needs to be better at all! You seem perfectly lovely and if I lived close to you I would be in your shop all the time! Sounds like the perfect sewing-geek girl kind of store to me. Can you offer any additional add-on service? Like coffee or a play area for little kids? Or get involved in a community-based chamber of commerce so that recommendations come from other business owners? Hook up with a local sewing guild to offer space for friendship groups? Of course you might already do that. I wish you all the very best! And I know it’s hard – I worked in small retail for years while at school and uni, and it’s horrible when people come in, look at your lovely saucepans, and state they could get it cheaper at Target. We used to ask whether Target could offer great after-sales advice. The answer to that is always “no”.

    (sorry for the ramble!)

  25. My only problem with supporting the little guy is whenever I try to shop in a store that is self owned, as a younger sewer the staff have treated me like I either don’t know what I’m doing or ignored me, going on to serve older customers etc. I’ve never been to your store, but here in Australia I shop at spotlight (our Joann equivalent) because the people there don’t try to make me feel guilty. I suppose half of this is my personal issues, but thats why I’d stick to purchasing from your online store and crappy big stores rather than your smaller store.

  26. I was thinking about you the other day during a conversation with friends who quilt, used to make garments but deal with the complicated fitting issues of middle age. I am so, so sorry this has become so difficult for you but I also know that every small business person I know has endured phases like this as well. However, a fabric store has a very different issue. The competition is Goliath! The little guy not only has to do everything better… they have to always be looking over their shoulder. So to speak. I am fortunate that we have two very high quality shops in our area and a few smaller ones that also sell quilting fabrics. Like my friends I don’t make many garments anymore. Quite frankly I don’t really need any more clothes so anything I make is special and I only use high quality fabrics. The current trends do not lend themselves to quality fabric or workmanship. I read a recent post by Bunny of La Sewista that chronicles some issues with current sewing trends. Poor workmanship is rampant and lousy fabric seems to enhance it. Now, thinking out loud here….have you tried to contact other owners, like yourself, to share and bounce ideas? Have you made any contacts with women’s groups? Many of us would be re-inspired to resume sewing with a little prod. Do you have samples in the store? The reason I ask is that I recently visited two yarn shops, in the same town, a local tourist attraction. Each in a beautiful historic building, each with high quality merchandise. Do you know who was selling yarn hand over fist? The one with samples, everywhere. I mean in the windows, on the rounders at the end of the aisles, near the cash register. These do not need to be full size samples. An item that shows some beautiful fabric made with expert stitching and touchable might help things along. Another tip from this lady…she keeps identification cards on her visitors. In her breezy style she sort of does little consultations with as many customers as possible. She asks them if they would like to participate in her personalized service. Basic info, name, phone if they wish, email, preferences, items they have made, interest in possible classes, etc. I know that is a lot of extra work but personalizing the shopping experience works for me. When I walk into the small shop and they remember that I like this or that I guarantee I will buy something, even if I don’t need it! Best of luck dear. Hang in there.

  27. I just stopped by our local fabric store today. (about 16 miles from my home) They’ve been around for years, but this town has a lot of entertainment industry where people need a wide range of garments.

    They bring things in from NYC and it is hard to beat the selection for the distance driven.

    But I still shop online from the “little guys.” Why – selection, and convenient hours. It isn’t just fabric that I need to buy, there’s food (prefer grass fed, organic and my spouse can not eat gluten or dairy) and RTW clothing. I just don’t have the time to do all the shopping in person. I’ve got a problem with my hip and I strictly budget the amount of time I spend in the car, but I can shop at home at a stand up pc. I try to support my farmers market, local raw honey stand, local berries roadside stand, local bra shop, 4 or 5 grocery stores and the fabric shop. I avoid Joann’s b/c it is a time waster. Get the theme here – time. Don’t have enough.

  28. Now I live on the other side of the earth and I know what you mean.
    In my home town there’s a teeny tiny shop for notions – buttons, trims, zippers etc. It’s my favourite shop of all time! I buy all my zippers, snaps, thread, staytapes and so on from there. The two lovely elderly ladies who run the place are very kind and helpful, they always offer alternatives when they dont have the exact thing you ask for amd they do special orders. For me at least.
    I love that shop soooo much!

  29. I’ve been thinking about your situation this evening and had some thoughts to share with you. Think of them as suggestions.

    A shop like yours that offers fashion fabrics of high quality with expert advice to boot, is clearly something special and unique. If there is enough awareness of your shop’s existence, especially for the people who work in the designing/custom scene (i.e. hired seamstresses, wedding dress makers, custom home decor makers, reupholsters, etc.), there will be traffic to your store.

    Take comfort in the fact that there are a number of cities around the nation that are thriving centers for shops like yours. I am constantly hearing about the many new fabric shops opening in places like Austin, TX, San Francisco, CA, and many towns in New York. Sewing is only growing now.

    Your shop will get to a solid state, but in the mean time, try finding other outlets. Start to look at your online store as your main source of income. Expand. Make all your merchandise available for people on the internet. Sewers thrive with sewalongs, kits, and classes. Connect with an indie pattern designer and start a sewalong with one of their patterns. Make sure everything they will need to buy will be at the B&M shop and online. Have everything at the customers’ fingertips.

    Hold as many classes as possible at the B&M shop. The local yarn shop in my neighborhood relies heavily on their classes, especially during the summertime when yarn is not on everyone’s mind. 🙂

    Try to connect with people in the designing and custom field by going to shows. Wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, prom dresses, reupholstery. . . All of these things require special fabric and you would be a great source for this kind of client.

    Above all, ask for help when you need it. People are willing to support stores like yours (for instance: me), so don’t be afraid to start a campaign or add a “donate here” paypal button on the site. I would be willing to donate and many other people, too.

    Will be praying for you!

    1. I have comments similar to Rebekah.

      I say all of this with the caveat up front that I LOVE your store and understand some of the things I’m saying might not be feasible, depending on your time/resources, but this is something I’ve thought about every time you blog about how tough it is running your B&M store.

      1. Some of it for me is the location. I’m sure there are all the people that go to Brickyard that love how close you are, but for me it’s not the most convenient area.

      I appreciate the later hours on Wednesday, but in general it’s also hard to get there in time since I work until at least 5:30 and weekends are so often full.

      2. I do wish you had dressmaking services available (or if you do, that I knew about them). My mother-in-law didn’t like the selection of cheap bridesmaid’s dresses here, and bought the fabric at Yellow Bird and had a seamstress make them. Unfortunately I have a job that keeps me more busy than I’d like, so I don’t sew much anymore. I also have a relatively hard body to fit and am still learning, so I hate wasting good fabric if my sewing sucks.

      But I have been in three weddings in the last year. I would kill to just buy the fabric from you and pay someone to make it for basically what I’d pay to buy the dress from David’s or wherever. I would also consider doing that to get cute work-appropriate dresses that actually fit me.

      This would also make networking easier at local events/conventions because then you appeal to more than just people who sew apparel.

      3. I think trying to partner with a tailor, seamstress, knitting shop or other business like that would be great and might help you save money if you could share rent/location.

      4. Can you form alliances with some of the quilt stores here? We have tons of great local quilt places. I was just talking to my friend’s aunt the other day and while she goes to local quilt places had no idea there was a place to get gorgeous apparel fabrics in SLC. Since you’re not a direct competitor with them, maybe they would be willing to put up A Fashionable Stitch sign with photos/list of what you offer at cutting table.

    2. I think that’s a good idea to expand our online shop with more fabric. I understand that it take time, and might be harder to organize. But I would definitely buy fabric online from you if you have a larger selection. And maybe it could help you to keep you store. I wish everything will sort out for you. Take care!

  30. Thanks for the reminder to support the little guy! I admit to going to the chain stores for thread, zips, and the like, but never fabric or stuff like real petersham ribbon (which I just bought from your online shop! You have the best ribbons.)because their selection is just crap. I feel like I do a good job supporting my locally owned grocery store, and avoiding the walmart, but there is no local fabric or yarn shop here. But there are great little shops online, and I do shop there! I wish you and your lovely store all the best!

  31. I do this! I got so fed up with the crappy borring fabric at my local big chain store that I didn’t renew my membership last fall, and have been buying everything but elastic (which I can’t find anywhere else in town, strangely) at one of our town’s three small fabric shops. In fact, I’m bussing across town tomorrow after work to get swimsuit fabric at one of them :). Hope things turn out alright for you!

  32. I’d love to do more to support shops like yours! Unfortunately, online support is all I can do, since I’m one of those people who live in an area with only big box options. In fact, it’s such a sewing desert here that we couldn’t even keep a Hancock’s open for more than a few years, and so Joann’s is literally the only place in my state that I can buy sewing supplies, unless I want to make the hour-plus trek to the shop where I take my sewing machines to get repaired. It’s not an ideal situation, but I’m thankful that I at least have internet sources that have enabled me to work with better fabrics

  33. I have to admit I felt a pang of jealousy when you bought your store because owning a small fabric store would be my dream career. Well, if I could make money at it, or at least break even. As the accountant for my family’s small business I realize just how difficult and unlikely that is. You are lucky to live in an area where there are lots of resources available. Have you thought about asking around at the local universities? Sometimes students are looking for real-life case studies. (I’m thinking there are some bright marketing students who might have some good ideas.) Have you tried forming relationships with the local colleges’ home ec type departments or theater departments? My daughter has been involved with searching for fabrics for the BYU costume shop and they usually look online. Seems like a phone call to your shop would be a better place for them to start. Retail is a brutal business and I really hope you are successful. Even though I live 700 miles away I’ll stop by whenever I’m in town.

  34. I would have to somewhat agree with what Liz said above. A small business has to offer that personal touch that makes me want to keep coming back. They are welcoming, personable, greeting me when i come into their business. If they cannot do that, then they are no different than a big box store. If they do, then i will happily come back again and again.

  35. As the mother of young children the reason I shop at big box stores is that they are open when I can go without the kids, the indie stores are not. I pop the kids in bed then head off at 7.30pm on a Friday night, or shop on a Sunday. I used to try to take the kids to indie shops on weekdays and it was so stressful I couldn’t make decisions and didn’t enjoy it. I ‘d prefer to shop at an indie store (and I used to) but no independent fabric shops near me have extended hours and no one wants my toddler either screaming in the pram or pulling 100 zippers off the rack.

    1. Maybe you can ask your local shop if they would consider one late night per week. That’s what we do at our store and it works.

  36. Thank you for this post Sunni! I opened a bricks & mortar shop just over a year ago with a business parter. I second all your thoughts and would like to add that I think the ‘big box stores’ are also causing people to lose their retail manners! Now, the vast majority of our customers are a delight, and are what makes the business worthwhile (it’s certainly not the financial rewards, certainly not yet anyway, since we have barely paid ourselves a cent and both put capital in). But I wish people would realise that when they walk into a small shop, the people in the shop are most likely the business owners who have put heart and soul into it. (If only we could afford to hire staff, ha!) We always make an effort to be friendly and chat and offer help. But there is a proportion of people who will avoid eye contact (it’s a tiny store), some will poke and prod everything, or others do a quick circuit and you can tell our carefully curated selection is not their style, but then they walk out without a backwards glance. Thank you and a smile doesn’t cost a thing! Grrr, haha! I am so thankful I have a business partner to share the frustrations with, so we can laugh rather than cry.
    I hope things get better for you. We’re not sure whether we’ll survive, since we can’t afford to run this as a hobby, no matter how much we enjoy it. There are many customers who are immensely appreciative of what we do and we are still ‘finding our people’ so we hold out hope. We feel for you!!

    1. It might not make you feel any better about the interaction, Jane, but it might just be that some people are very shy and have social anxiety. I know I act that way sometimes and it’s because I have a very hard time some days interacting with people I don’t know. So it may not be rudeness, but anxiety.

      1. Also, this is one of the reasons I sometimes (hides face) avoid small shops – I feel like the owners are going to hate me for walking out without buying anything (though I always say thanks as I leave). I can feel the pressure of being the only customer in the store and feel they are watching / judging me.

      2. I appreciate your thoughts ladies – it’s a really tough balance to strike as a shop owner, between showing you’re friendly and willing to offer help if it’s wanted, and knowing people don’t want to feel like we’re breathing down their necks! Especially in a small shop. So we try to say hi and then get busy with something so they don’t feel ‘watched’ but can approach us if they want. And we always have music on! Also, I think often it really is actual rudeness/lack of awareness of shop owners as real human beings… I think we can usually pick the people who are just shy 🙂 And a simple thanks or smile as you leave is really all we ask! I sound like I’m having a terrible whinge. There are so many incredibly lovely people out there who make up for the odd bad apple!

  37. I run a small craft store as well, and it is hard. The hardest part is educating customers on why they shouldn’t go for the cheapest, and how when big box companies sell just over cost they do so at the expense of their employees who can’t earn a living wage, and when they sell cheap crap it’s from countries who basically use slave labor. There is a “support small business” day that we try to promote and I tell people all the time I buy from my own shop because I want it to stay open! Good luck Sunni! I hope it gets better for you!

  38. I couldn’t agree with you more about what most consumers value: price.

    When I talk to my crafty/ sewing/ creative friends, they tell me with excitement how craft & handmade businesses are booming. Well of course it would seem that way to us because that’s what we value & how we choose to shop. It’s what excites us. But for the main part I don’t think people are concerned about manufacturing ethics or supporting the little guy if it means spending more money. I remember a few years ago I bought a pair of locally handmade shorts at a market for about $90. I was happy to spend that much because at the time making shorts wasn’t something I could do, but I still understood and appreciated what went into making a handmade garment. When I told a friend about my cute new shorts her eyes just about popped out of her head. She said she couldn’t justify spending that money when she could buy something similar for $5 at Kmart. When people aren’t educated about processes or quality it can be difficult convincing them to fork out.

    Anyway, I know this does nothing to help you with your situation. I’m terribly sorry to hear it’s been such a struggle for you. We go into new ventures with such grand visions and it can be a horrible blow both financially and mentally when things don’t go quite as expected. I suppose the hardest part is realising when enough is enough- it’s so difficult to be objective when you’re in the thick of it. My only advice is to make the decision that’s right for you and not someone else. I know I’m guilty of staying in situations because of the fear of being judged by my friends, family and peers. But the thing I’ve learned about judgement is that judgment is actually you judging yourself. You may tell yourself that people will think a particular way about you if you do such and such, but that’s actually YOU thinking that way about you. Be kind to yourself 🙂 The people who matter will all admire you for your courage and for trying. Trying counts for a lot by the way! Life would be awfully humdrum if we always took the safe route, no? I just hope you look back at this project and are proud of yourself, regardless of what happens.

    Wishing you all the best (and lots of rich customers!). I live on the other side of the world so I can only offer moral support but will continue to shop at my local small businesses & I’ll think of you 🙂

  39. I live in the UK but not in London (where there is plenty of choice). We don’t have your big box fabric stores. We have lost stores that I remember when I was younger. I still have a couple of independent fabric stores within easy travelling and do use those. I use them because I don’t want to use mail order but their choice isn’t great and their service isn’t either. They are both quite big and relatively anonymous and garment fabric is clearly not their money spinner. There are a couple of smaller local-ish shops but they cater for quilting. I feel for you and wish I could pop in and buy some of your gorgeous-sounding fabric. I bought some cotton from one of the quilting shops last night and today I’m off to buy a zip. The shop is holding a skirt making class tomorrow.

  40. I am sorry to hear of your stresses. I’d like to share some of my experiences and thoughts as a consumer though. I live in Melbourne, Australia. Plenty of people shop at the “big box” fabric stores here, which are dominated by Spotlight. However, in Melbourne we are also lucky to have a number of smaller independent fabric stores, which are where I prefer to shop. Why do I shop at the little ones? Because (a) often their fabrics are better quality and cheaper (b) they have a better range of dressmaking fabrics (c) their staff know more about dressmaking and are nice to me. But there are also reasons why I don’t shop in some of the little ones. (a) the shop owners are NOT nice to me and are rude and eccentric (b) the prices are sky high and service is snooty (c) I can’t find the basics that I am looking for. I also shop online, especially for notions etc that can be hard to get here in Australia, but I prefer to feel my dressmaking fabrics myself before I purchase (quilting fabrics are another story). And I have stood in a long line as often at the little stores as I do at the big one, and many of the staff at the big one are just as helpful as those at the little. Times are changing, and things are tough out there in the retail world. I will continue to support small businesses that are (a) nice to me (b) sell what I want to buy at prices I am able to pay (c) charge the same or only slightly more for items that I could get at a large business. Some of it does come down to the bottom line. But some of it comes down to what a small business can value-add. The value-adding is really, really important in my opinion. None of us owe other businesses a living unless those other businesses are supplying us with the service and product we are looking for. I hope that doesn’t sound harsh (my husband has just been retrenched from his job so I do know the feeling and sympathise) but just asking for consumers to support the little guys for no reason other than “support me” doesn’t work for me. We need to know what you do better than the big guys if we are going to do that and you really do have to demonstrate that you do those things better. Best wishes, and I do sincerely hope that things improve for you.

  41. Having seen all the comments to your new post I don’t expect mine will be of any note, but I write from across the pond where the little indie businesses have all but gone out of business and even the big retail stores don’t do haberdashery any more. Here in the South East of England the only fabric ‘stores’ I have access to are the warehouse type – which as you so rightly say don’t stock the quality items, just cheap poly and jersey. Some little quilt fabric stores still exist, selling only small ranges of that [usually Moda]. I have to shop on-line which for fabric is either hit and miss if you order fabric without swatches or delayed while the tiny swatches come, which don’t give you a realistic idea of what the whole fabric is like – so my advice to you lucky ones over there LISTEN UP. Give up your choices and freedom to choose and you will be sorry.

  42. Ever since the first chain giant moved into my home town in the ’90s (in the USA) I made a habit of going to the small businesses first (for whatever I was shopping for). I’ve since moved to the UK and this is still my shopping habit. I’ve found the selection of goods to be of higher quality and the customer service to be so much better in small shops. I like that there is someone there who knows their products and who can give me guidance if I’m not quite sure what I need. If I can’t find what I want in a small shop, I look around to see if a small business is offering what I need online. If I’m desperate, I’ll go to a ‘big box’ type shop.

    I only started sewing clothes for myself a few years ago, and unfortunately, there isn’t much choice for shops (large or small) supplying garment fabric locally. Most shops selling fabric are aimed at quilting or home dec. There’s one fabric store supplying garment fabric in the next town over, but the place is absolutely rammed with fabrics which are so disorganised that I find it hopeless to shop there, particularly as somebody who’s new to all the different fabric types. There used to be another shop nearby, owned by professional dressmakers, but it closed within the past couple of years. I made my first online fabric purchase a few weeks ago, but I’d prefer to be able to see and feel fabric in a shop before buying. Usually, I’ll go to the hobby supply chain store for thread so I can get a good match to my fabric, and I’ll sometimes pop in there for other haberdashery bits and bobs. It’s the only store supplying haberdashery and sewing supplies (and an extremely slim selection of fabrics) in my town. On the other hand, I’ve probably walked out of that hobby shop empty-handed as many times as I’ve found what I needed, wondering (in frustration) why there isn’t a good, local fabric store, specialising in garment fabric and sewing supplies. I suppose it might be because there’s limited demand, or that most local sewers are quilt-makers or home-decorators. It could very well be that garment sewers travel to the larger cities for their fabric purchases. The local economy has not been great, but some neighbourhoods are undergoing regeneration projects, so who knows, maybe a fabric store will open here in the near future.

    I’m moving back to the US soon and I think I’ll be in a similar situation: online searching has suggested that the nearest fabric store is a big-box. I guess I’ll just have to travel further to find a good-quality fabric store! I have fond memories of visiting my local fabric shop in Souderton, PA (The Souder Store) when I was a kid. It was just magical – two floors of all different sorts of fabric, all colours of thread and zippers and binding. I bought fabric for a quilt there and the hardest part was choosing between all of the beautiful cottons. The shop closed a few years ago. Fabric shops are wonderful places. I wish you all the best Sunni and hope things turn around for you!

  43. Yes! Thank you for posting this. I live in an area that really only has e big box stores, and the lone “indie” store is a drive for me. So I end up at Joann’s for things like zippers/thread and online for fabric. It’s really frustrating because I would prefer supporting a locally owned fabric shop that could offer a lot more than just a mediocre selection. It’s one of the reasons I’ve become passionate about shopping for my knitting supplies at my local yarn store. The owner and her employees are a fantastic source of knowledge (and have helped me troubleshoot knitting problems!), they offer unique classes, trunk shows and fibers I haven’t seen elsewhere. Sure, it costs more, but I love the service and personality they offer with the shopping experience. Well worth it. Same reason why when an indie coffee shop finally opened up here, I’ve pretty much ditched Starbucks! Local businesses are disappearing too quickly…

  44. Totally agree with your post – I live in Birmingham, UK in easy reach of independent fabric stores & a great market and buy pretty much all of my supplies there as I want to make sure Birmingham continues to have great shops. We have a great little haberdashery which organises some very cool events ( it might be worth getting in touch with Lauren the owner to swap ideas? Really hope that business picks up & best wishes to you & your family x

  45. I SSSSOOOO agree with your point of view! I have a favorite local small business fabric shop in my area (Plano, TX) and have heard her lament in similar tones. She has wonderful fabrics and wonderful classes and wonderful helpful service. I know when I go there I can get guidance on making good selections and how to sew on the fabrics I have chosen. However, until the past 6 months, I wasn’t able to shop there very often. It was out of reach from a price perspective for 2 reasons – 1) She only carried the very best fabrics and notions. Most started at $15/yard and very quickly escalated into $40/yard and much higher. It was just out of reach for my budget. 2) I am a returning sewist after 20+ years. When I was sewing before, it was children’s clothes when my children were in elementary school so no fit was required. When I started sewing again, it was for my own post-menopausal body and there was LOTS of fitting to be done. I was too under-confident to cut into anything that was that costly.

    Last Fall my favorite store owner made a change. She began offering a set of fabrics she called her Bargain Basement. She said these were lower quality, but still good quality fabrics that she got on a good deal and was able to offer in the $6/yard range. I and others flocked to her shop and bought frequently from that area. I could work it into my budget and was confident enough to cut into something in that range.

    She also offered all her classes (and there are so many great ones for dressmaking!) for a one-month period at 1/2 price. I took everything I could fit into my schedule. My confidence really skyrocketed. I gained enough confidence to venture out of her bargain basement into the higher quality/cost area of the store.

    Then a few months later, she did something else, she decided to try out dropping all of her prices. Lower margin but hopefully higher volume in sales. That was the tipping point for me and for several of my friends in the local sewing guild. Her shop is my #1 choice. I will always shop there unless I just can’t find what I am looking for (which is very seldom) or if I am at a sewing conference and find something beautiful or very interesting and just can’t leave without it. Between the guaranteed high level of service I get at her shop, the high quality of fabric, the slightly reduced cost of the fabric, the discount she offers our sewing guild, the increased confidence her classes have given me….I’m hooked on her shop.

    Oh….one more thing…. She also has my allegiance because of her support of our American Sewing Guild chapter. She lets us meet once a month in her training space at no charge. Can’t tell you how often members shop and buy before and after our meetings.

    I truly hope your shop succeeds. I am rooting for you. I just know there is just the right formula for you to make it and I SSSOOO hope your B&M shop does. I know this was long, but I hope it was encouraging. “My” shop has gone through rough waters too and is still making it. I am rooting for yours to do the same.

    All the best to you!

  46. This is something I have thought about so much lately as I have been investigating where I buy my clothes, my food, my sewing and knitting supplies, and who I am supporting with my money. Here are my thoughts in hope that they are helpful to you.
    My situation is slightly different. I come from the USA, a big city where there weren’t any independent fabric shops I know of, just the big chains. Now I live in London, where interestingly I have never found a big box fabric store, just lots of independent ones. Our cheap fabric sources are open-air markets. Our local department store (in our borough of London) has a haberdashery department which doesn’t carry fabric but does have notions, which I usually buy there. It isn’t the cheapest but it really is convenient. So in a sense I have to shop at smaller stores, and usually travel a ways to find them. But I am now very glad that I have this option, and I do my best to support these businesses.

    The ‘better customer service’ argument isn’t, in my opinion, a good enough argument for supporting small business. While it’s nice to be treated well in a shop and have shopkeepers with knowledge, this alone doesn’t justify (to me) the much higher cost I might pay there. Besides, our ‘local’ Jo-ann’s used to be quite friendly and the staff knew us and sewed themselves and had expertise; that’s a function of how the particular store is managed, not whether it’s a chain or not. If the ONLY added value to shopping at a small store is that the staff are more helpful or smile more, I’m not sure that’s worth the difference in price to most people. Probably ESPECIALLY if you are experienced and don’t need so much help – just to find what you want and can afford.

    Ultimately, my willingness to pay more to a local store has to do with better understanding a whole host of economic and labour issues I never really grasped before. (Think Overdressed, the book.) In other words, when I evaluate what I am paying for, I want to know about the source and ethics of the whole chain of supply, and that has the power to convince me that double the price for fabric is worth it.
    Practically speaking, what do I like in a fabric store, and what makes me loyal to an independent shop over a cheaper chain one?

    The availability of harder-to-find ethical fabrics like organic and fairtrade cotton, peace silk, Modal and Tencel, or responsibly made wool.

    The shop’s transparency about its sources and suppliers.

    The sense of ‘story’ about what I am buying – where did it come from, who made it, how was it made, what’s special about it? The companies I can think of who do really well selling things like organic food, fairtrade fabrics and the like, often do well at marketing the ‘story’ of their products and branding the company on this basis. This gives a sense of value to the item, making me willing to pay more money for it.

    I find I prefer a good selection of a few well-curated fabric lines rather than a spotty selection of a lot of things, i.e. eight colours in the same good-quality cotton jersey rather than eight different patterns and colours of other fabric. This is just personal, but it brands a place in my mind as The Place for a specific thing, and I know what I can find there and will return when I want more of the same type of fabric. There is a fabric store in London, for example, which has a reliable selection of organic cotton jersey in a lot of colours – so if I want to make a tee shirt with that type of fabric, I know I can go there and be assured to find a good colour.

    I also think that loyalty is helped by creating a sense of community, things like loyalty stamp cards the way coffee shops do (our local department store offers this for sewing supply purchases), groups and clubs, and so forth. These things aren’t lucrative in themselves like classes are, but they do draw me back to a place.

    Wishing you all the best!

  47. I agree totally. I can only speak from the North Carolina point of view, but there are very few small fabric shops around. And the ones that are here are catering to quilters. Nothing to be found for fashion sewers. So unfortunately, people turn to online stores. I would much rather pay a little more from someone who actually has the fabric in stock where I can see it and touch it. And having a shop owner that can assist with questions is invaluable. Box box fabric is cheaply made and so scratchy i would never attempt to use it for clothing. I don’t even waste my time there. I will say a little prayer for you tonight! And I will be back for Stay tape…. I had a hard time finding the 1 1/4″.

    God bless,
    Laurie, Gibsonville, NC

  48. One difficulty is finding out that the small shops exist. I know that there will be a Jo-Ann’s in virtually every medium-sized city I’m in, probably several, and if I don’t know where it is, I can go onto Jo-Ann’s website and find the nearest one. There’s no unified database of small fabric shops, and most don’t have much of an online presence. I’ve googled “fabric shop [region]” and variations thereof everywhere I’ve lived, and more often than not I only find out about a small fabric shop much later, through word-of-mouth. Meanwhile that’s a couple years I’ve been shopping at Jo-Ann’s because I wasn’t aware the small fabric shop existed.

    Having moved to where I currently live three years ago, I’m still unaware of a local fabric store any closer than the suburbs of Detroit (about an hour away on a good day). So except for special outfits (usually costumes), I’m buying my cheap fabric for mock-ups at Jo-Ann’s and everything else online. If there’s a small fabric store somewhere around here, I’d love to shop at it, but I don’t know whether one exists.

  49. Oh, Sunni! As a B&M owner, I totally feel you. I know how dicey finances can get and the frustration of everyone wanting you to be a discount shop. We need to get all the brick and mortar shop owners together and have a virtual cocktail hour 😀

  50. I came to your shop back when it was Yellow Bird Fabrics when I was looking for silk organza for a minor alteration to the antique wedding gown I would be wearing for my wedding. Your selection was so fabulous, and the ONLY place in SLC where I was able to find REAL silk organza–in a variety of white and cream, at that! I was so glad for your shop, and also sad, because I knew that I wouldn’t be returning regularly enough to do my part to keep you afloat (I don’t sew much)… 😦

  51. Eek, I hope things get better for your shop! I completely agree with you about local fabric shops. I’m lucky to live in a major city with a lot of options. When I travel to more rural areas (or even just regular cities), I am absolutely appalled by the choices presented at the big box stores – and they’re not even cheaper! I can’t imagine paying so much for such crap. That being said, what puts me off with a lot of local fabric stores (mine is perfect – but some of the other local ones I’ve frequented) is that they can be really pricey. I get it, I understand exactly why I can’t deal and I DO want to support them/you – but sometimes my budget doesn’t allow for it. For example, I would absolutely love to buy every new independent pattern that comes out on the market; I know many do but I simply cannot afford it. I wish there was a happy medium. :-/

  52. Actually Sunni, I thought you’d make this post much sooner than you have. The differences between a brick & mortar and online store are night and day. I live in a small town just south of San Antonio, Texas and even in SA, with a city nearing 2 million people, we have no other fashion fabric stores other than national chain stores. The profit margin of fabric is minimal and they have stayed open by incorporating much more than just fabrics. For instance, JoAnn Fabrics is now just JoAnns. It is the nature of business I guess.

    We ALWAYS try to shop local when we can, even if it means paying a bit more. But I’ll tell you, the ONLY way these businesses make it is by name recognition in the local community. They sponsor 4H, are members of the local Chamber, work with the schools to have whatever supplies a teacher might need for an upcoming project, sponsor pagents & floats, etc. You must use social media to bring customers into your store for otherwise unadvertised sales, etc. One store uses a reusable shopping bag and 1 day a month what ever you can stuff into it, you get 10% off. The trick to staying alive as a brick and mortar is building customer loyalty and beyond amazing customer service (which I’m sure you have!). Also, start selling your in-store stuff online. Make it the best of both worlds! Great luck to you!

  53. Owning a brick and mortar shop is hard! It’s hard to own any business, period, and it’s hard to be in the fabric business in a world where clothing is so cheap.
    I’m happy that your online shop is doing well. I wish I had some words of brilliance to share on how to make a physical shop more profitable. It looks like you have a handful of great ideas already from all the previous comments.
    Thanks for the reminder to shop local, even if we’re just running in for thread or needles, choose the local shop if you can. Best of luck! 🙂

  54. Like the others – I love your shop and as my sewing has improved, I’ve tried to hop in more often, but I usually have a antsy child with me so it becomes more of an errand stop and less of a destination. I would love to see (and would pay!) for a Stitch and Sip night – I’ve found that being around other sewists and great samples keeps your shop in the forefront of my mind when looking for fabric (as in I’m still thinking about the gray/white striped dress sample I saw earlier this year)

  55. I will be in this week to purchase fabric and I want to take your children’s sewing class. Hang on please!

  56. People often say to me, “you should open your own place”. Not a sewing type place – I’d never weather that. So I have to take my hat off to you for trying, but I do think the days of brick and mortar shops may be coming to an end. I have never shopped online so much in my life but I am pleased to say that when I need fabric, I would never dream of going to Spotlight or Lincraft. I sew for great quality and I want the result to be unique. Its rare that those big box stores deliver on those fronts. I am so very lucky to live quite close to Tessuti and The Fabric Store and a little farther from Fabric Warehouse in Sydney. I love trawling those places. For the most part the staff are helpful – I avoid the lady who is shirty and always having a bad day!
    If I ever visit your end of the world, I’ll be sure to look you up Sunni. I wish you all good things, your blogs and tutorials have always been so generously given.

  57. i’ve worked at more than one small fabric store, and this is how it has always been. it makes me so sad. people don’t even realize, either, and i think that’s the problem – we would have people call us FROM THE BIG BOX STORE because they couldn’t find someone to answer questions about something, and they knew we could help them. or customers would actually tell us that they were just looking at something in person so they could then go home and buy it for cheaper on amazon. but they weren’t trying to be mean or rude, they just didn’t even realize how insulting and just hugely disappointing it was. i understand that saving money is important and that budgets are limited, but if people truly realized that a dollar means SO MUCH MORE at a small business than at a giant store, then maybe they might choose to buy two yards of nice fabric instead of four yards of crap.

  58. For me I will do anything I can to avoid the big box stores. We have 2 over here that deal in fabric, Spotlight and Lincraft; I hate both! I tend to go to the local quilting shop for many of my notions or 1 of 2 local fabric stores that do quality fabrics. 1 is better than the other of course and luckily that is also the closer of the 2. I get the odd thing online from Trademe, but lately a lot of my shopping has been from my stash.
    If buying quilting fabrics they always come from a real quilt shop; Spotlight may have the same prints sometimes, but the fabric it’s on is not even close to the same! I’d rather pay the extra for something that will last and look good years from now.

  59. I really feel for you. If I was on the right side of the ocean I would order from you all the time. Over here in Sydney I live on the wrong side of the city but I still try to shop indie whenever I can by taking advantage of phone ordering. Most small fabric shops will happily send samples and I have always found the service outstanding and any postage is completely offset as it would cost me more in road tolls to drive to the actual shop instead. People seem to put off by mail ordering but if you order swatches first it is so easy. It’s a great way to support indie stores if they are not conveniently located. I hope you can work out a solution for all your stress. And I’m off to order some stuff from your online shop because it rocks!

  60. Just a thought but have you considered choosing a few “blogging partners” ala mood sewing network? For instance, you give them a piece of a new fabric that is going up in your shop & they sew up a garment and make a post that goes up on your blog? You get more traffic on the blog and the newest fabrics get showcased 🙂

  61. Thank you for sharing the downside of being a small business. I say I try and support small businesses..especially fabric stores..but i find myself taking the shortcut and going to my big box store because it’s closer. Your words made me remember that there are things beyond my convienience at stake here. It could be worth it to wait a week to get that spool of thread I need, so I can shop at my favorite little fabric store. So what if it takes an extra 1/2 hour..I’m getting better quality, and bringing my business to the store that has knowledgeable people there to help me when I’m stuck on a project. That’s worth the extra time !

  62. I’m so glad to read your post. As a baby boomer that grew up in a different era, I cherish brick and mortar stores – especially the small, independent merchants. I make a point of buying from small stores even though the prices can be more than online or at big box stores. Small stores make a community special, unique. It would be a sad world without them. And how I wish your store were in my area. Growing up I had many fabric stores to choose from, with knowledgeable staff, great notions, etc. I would spend a couple of hours pouring over pattern books and then selecting fabric. It’s part of the sewing experience. Over the last thirty years, so many fabric stores have closed that it is disheartening and a disincentive to sewing. We have one horrible fabric store that basically is only good for notions. Other than that, my only choice is to buy online or drive up to LA. I’ve even considered opening a fabric store, modeled after my all-time favorite, Poppy Fabrics in Berkeley, but I know it would be a rough road in today’s retail environment. Anyway, I hope your readers respond to waht you have written.

  63. Garment-seamstresses/sempsters? They exist? I took a tour bus to the LA garment district and had the following conversation about fifteen times until I stopped trying to find someone else who was heading up to buy clothing fabric, “Oh no. I used to sew my own clothing, but now I make quilts”. “You’re going to go buy clothing fabric? I used to do that…”

    Plenty of odd shops for quilt stuff around here, but garment quality fabric? Not so much. Ginormous chain or county-wide discount chain, that’s all.

    As for other little shops -YES. Particularly artists. Support local small business!!!!!!!!!!!

  64. I work at one of those big box fabric ‘n craft chain stores and do whatever I can to buy my fabrics from local/smaller online retailers. The only bad thing is the closest in-state fabric store that sells more than quilting fabric requires a day trip to go visit, though I’m about a stone’s throw from a good store in NH and the garment district in NYC. At work, I try to spend my money on notions unless I find something that I absolutely have to have, which is pretty rare (I do have a ton of fleece blankets, though).
    The thing that I’ve noticed, though, is that we cater to a LOT of people who start off the conversation with “I don’t sew, like, at all.” Most of them are college students or parents or kids that need to finish projects or “I ripped my jeans and I need a patch” or “we want to re-cover our dining room chairs”, and so on. There was a store just down the road from us that was open for almost 65 years that used to sell much nicer and much higher quality fabrics, but they closed about 10 years ago. Sometimes we get their former customers coming in looking for the kinds of fabrics that they used to sell. The unfortunate thing is that if we did have nice silks, wools, actual decent fabrics and things like that, people would find the prices to be ridiculous and chances are they would end up getting stolen 😦

  65. I totally agree with you. I’m always buying at small locals when possible. It would be obvious to do so when one has the money.

    Thanks for sharing and take care!

  66. I do support a local fabric boutique because she does have the best quality fabric for clothing construction, and I spread the word to all my garment sewing friends. If I’m looking for something (i.e. Navy Ponte Knit)all I have to do is ask and she will look when out fabric buying then let me know when she finds it! You can’t get that special attention at the big boys! We have also bonded as friends and gone to exhibits in NYC together, which luckily is only a short train ride away. I am so glad that I found Just Make It Sew and the friends I have made there.

  67. Sorry to hear about your struggles, but at least online is working for you. I know nothing about brick-and-mortar retail, and do not know the specifics of your offerings, but I do know that there are people out there who wish they were creative, but would rather purchase than make, or can only purchase because they don’t know how to make. What about consigning some local crafts people to sell some specialty hand made items in your shop? People looking for specialty items would make the trip and it could open up a new customer base for classes for those who want to try to make things themselves, but have been unsure of where to start. I realize there is a fine line between a craft store and a sewing store vs your original intent, but when you need traffic you need another audience.

  68. I have ordered from your website a few times. (LOVE the wax tracing paper btw.)As I am in ND, I have no way of shopping at the brick and mortar store, and do a fair amount of fabric purchasing online. Mostly at We have a fabric shop in my area. It is Fabric and Textile Warehouse, which is one of only four stores. I like to browse there and often buy things that catch my eye. Service is great, people are helpful, and quality is good. If I have something specific in mind, however, I tend to shop online. I think that with the vast choices available on the web, a brick/mortar store has an uphill battle. As they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! I would totally shop your store online if I could. Hope things move in the right direction for you!!

    1. I just now noticed that you’ve got some fabrics in your online store. Only the linen and coating showed up when I looked on my ipad. I love the choices! I might have to save up for the lace. It’s wonderful!

  69. You have a mountain of good advice here.
    Take heart, it gets easier.
    Sorry in advance for the long and unsolicited advice in this comment.
    My husband and I own our own small business. No employees, just the two of us and our crazy ideas. The first six months we hemorrhaged cash while burning through loans, simultaneously implementing a very aggressive marketing strategy. Neither of us have any previous business experience. Those were sad, scary months.
    The second six months brought just enough business to cover our basic expenses, but we were still in a pretty deep hole.
    The second year started to turn a profit. And now, several years into it, the business can cover its own expenses and pay our salaries (generously) with cash left over.
    Here are some of the things that helped turn our mom-n-pop-shop into something profitable:
    1. Create a superior quality product, and believe in it. You already know your shop carries the highest quality materials and employs the most knowledgeable and courteous staff. Your product is already good. Yeah, you might be slightly higher priced, but for those of us looking for quality products know that we’ll pay a little more for it.
    2. Court your clientele. Some folks will always want inexpensive over good quality. Some folks will want good quality no matter the cost. They are simply two different types of shoppers. You are not necessarily out to get the “Wal-mart” mentality shopper, nor are you likely to change their shopping habits. You’re not a Ford dealer, you’re a Lexus dealer! Don’t worry your time or marketing strategies on the people who won’t come to your shop anyway. But DO bend over backwards for the right clients. My mother-in-law is a professional seamstress (draperies, elaborate costumes, ball gowns, etc.) She can hardly bring herself to go to those chain stores for materials, but she’s old school and doesn’t know how to find anything different. If she knew about your shop, she’d think she had died and gone to Heaven. You’re a high-end, niche shop with excellent staff. Just thinking off the top of my head, and without reading all of the above comments, you could target in a MAJOR way: Costume managers from the various Theater companies and school drama depts. in Utah (there are tons…), the DIY prom dress/bridesmaid dress for all the modest Mormon mommies, Bridal expos and conventions, professional seamstresses. Some of the big time sewing bloggers will do a guest post on their page about a local business, and many of them love free fabric to make up into something awesome and show on their blog. That will drive traffic to your store. Home Ec. teachers.
    (All this you probably already know.)
    3. Expand your potential clientele. Do you offer a “first class free” to newly enrolled students? Get ’em hooked and coming back for more.
    4. No way to ignore this one, no matter how much we try, but a fully integrated online marketing presence with a social media component. You need to drive actual bodies to your store, and internet clicks. Take out a little ad space on the big sewing bloggers page. Make your store website attractive and easy to navigate. Post pics on Instagram. Create your own hashtag. If you don’t want to sell your products online, at least have a google search optimized site so people can FIND you when they’re looking for great fabrics and helpful staff. Think: If I were someone who knew nothing about this shop, how hard would it be for me to find it? How would I go about finding it? What’s everyone’s first step? Ask google. It takes time for Google to find you, but there are things you can do to make it easier.
    5. Find people to help you, or trade help. It’s way too much for one artistic woman to try to do all of the administrative and creative stuff on her own. Get someone to do all the web and social media stuff for you so you can focus on offering great classes with great products.
    The first year just might kill you. But it probably won’t 🙂 And you’ll come out right on the other side. I think the tide is turning for peoples loyalties to return to the old Brick and Mortar stores.
    Good luck!

  70. If only I HAD a lovely boutique fabric store in my area – I was in my absolute glory when we visited Melbourne; we just don’t have them here, sadly. If your shop was here, I’d be in there every day… but since it isn’t, I’m happy to continue to support your online shop and to continue to give my business to the ‘little guys’ online 🙂 That being said… I know it’s a great undertaking but is there any way you could do online ordering for your brick & mortar shop? I’m POSITIVE you’d have TONS of support from us online fans!! 🙂

  71. In our Pinterest-driven sewing world, posts like these are rare.

    Thank you for being honest. Your blog isn’t exactly the escapism I seek when reading online content and this is why I keep reading it…

    I find it weird that with patterns, not buying indie is almost taboo, while with fabric chain stores are the norm.

    I live in Israel and I only buy locally from small, website-less stores.

  72. I sure wish I could visit your store or any store that has fine fabrics. Believe me, I would be there all the time, but all we have are the big box stores that sell crap cheap. The fabric you get there is so bad you are wasting your time even sewing with it. I do get some nice fabric on line, but it is really hard to match stuff up or be creative when all you’re looking at is a small two inch square of a picture of a fabric! I wish you the best in keeping your brick and mortar shop!

  73. I wish the best for you! I have encountered a similar attitude in my sewing for customers, both in alterations and custom sewing. For example, a recent customer wanted a zipper replaced in a pair of slacks and thought I should only charge for the cost of the zipper! There are so many stories similar to this one! Along with educating people about quality fabric and supporting independent small businesses, we need to educate them about the business of sewing and what it costs us: continuing education, supplies, time, etc. I hope you are encouraged by all the supporting posts. Let us know your progress with this issue.

  74. I read this with interest because I would like to be a local fabric shop one day. I tend to agree with some of the responses above regarding samples. When I worked retail in college for Jcrew, what we sold overwhelmingly was the clothes we were actually wearing. I also think it’s a good idea to network with other fabric shops, but also the other kinds small businesses near you. They’re in the same boat and maybe you can cross promote. Finally, I wonder whether location is a challenge? I looked up your contact info and was surprised that there’s no description of where you are located beyond a vague “in Salt Lake.” Which neighborhood? Near what attractions? Accessible by transit? A map? An upbeat description of what else one can do when visiting? I picture a small retailer in a cute little street with other cute little retailers, near coffee shops and restaurants, so that the visit to the shop isn’t just an errand, it’s an experience. As someone mentioned above, there has to be a value added in the shop that you can’t get online. I had to look your address up on Google maple see where the store is. It seems suburban, near lots of big box places. I don’t get out to the suburbs much, but speaking only for myself, a trip to Home Depot or target or whatever wears me out! I am unlikely to make a “fun” stop too, especially with kids in tow. But I love to wander around downtown, stopping for fabric as well as a coffee and some people watching. There are two quilt shops in the suburbs that do well (cloth and bobbin in
    Narberth, PA and the Little Shop in Haddonfield, NJ) I think because partly they’re in a great location – right in a cute historic downtown shopping street accessible to locals and tourists and easy to reach by car or transit. People can visit a number of fun places at the same time, have a snack or a drink or whatever. Purl soho does this too – makes an experience out of your visit. We have garment fabric stores too, all on one street known as Fabric Row, but they each have their own specialty. They cater to pros, though and can be intimidating. They’re also way too stuck in the past. But the good ones will tell you to go across the street for x if they don’t carry it. There are good restaurants and lots of quirky hip new kinds of shops opening in the same location. I support them as much as I can.

    I wish you lots of success! I hope you get past this difficult time and things start to look up. I doubt I’ll ever be in Salt Lake, but am happy to support your online shop.

  75. Two of my faves:

    Stone Mountain & Daughter in Berkeley CA
    Really nice selection of apparel fabric that you can’t find at the the ‘big’ stores!


    Cool Cottons in Portland OR
    For quilters and crafters (obviously cotton) a wonderful selection!

    I live an 1.5 hours away from Berkeley but when I’m going to spend my time making a garment I’m not going to trust the outcome to cheap fabric. And 11 hours from Portland but when I’m there twice a year I arrive with a 1/2 empty suitcase to fill up before my trip home.

    Please share the locations of your local shops, sometimes they can’t be found on line and recomendations are the best.


  76. A little late to the comment party here, but thought I’d throw in anyway. The area I used to live in had nothing but quilt shops and big-box stores, and while I did occasionally shop the locals, I always got really weird reactions from the staff when I said I was going to make clothing out of the fabric. About a year ago we moved cross-country and there is a local shop here that sells all kinds of fabrics, and they make custom curtains on sight. They have a great selection of quality fabrics in a fairly wide range of prices, so I’ve spent most my fabric dollars since moving there. One thing that keeps me going there is their club-card program, for $25/year you get 25% off almost everything in the store. I’ve certainly spent enough to make the $25 worthwhile, and even though it cost me a bit upfront, I always feel like I’m getting a bargain, which makes me more inclined to spend more. My first year expires in a couple weeks, and I’ll definitely be renewing my card. I do wish they had a better online presence, but if anyone is in the Tampa Bay Florida area and doesn’t know about them, I’d certainly recommend checking out Jay’s Fabric Center in Pasadena

  77. This post was such a wakeup call. I’m so glad that you wrote this, because people really do need to be reminded (myself included) that while it may seem cheaper and easier to run to a big box store for a one stop shop, if all we support are big box chain stores, they will be all that exists anymore.

    I’m glad to know that your online shop is doing well! Living in Canada, and in an area without any small local fabric shops, I was blown away to see the quality of fabrics you provide! from the big box fabric store in my area that only seems to carry “polyester blends” it was so exciting to see such beautiful fabrics made out of quality materials, and the pattern making and sewing notions that I also cannot get here. I hope that your online store will always do well, so that as I continue to learn how to sew garments (just in the early stages of that right now – I have successfully made my first skirt!) I might be able to always order high quality products from your shop, even though it is very far away.

    I’m sorry to hear about your brick and mortar however. I hope that this post helps everyone to remember that in the long run, it is not easier or cheaper to buy from big box stores at all, and it is certainly not worth it in the end. I hope that there is a way that you will be able to keep your brick and mortar store so you can keep offering such high quality things to the people in your area.

  78. I have really enjoyed your shop although I am more into quilting, but have come in several times to get a beautiful piece of wool or lace.

    It is a shame that you have had such a difficult time keeping this store afloat. I certainly understand your dilemma and hope you can salvage your brick and mortar store. Good luck to you….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s