A tale of two quilt stores (or three or four…)

I don’t write a lot about my work life, which is in retail sales. However, I have recently acknowledged out loud that I will be approaching my 20th Christmas season. Which means I have gone through at least one other “it’s the economy, stupid” cycle. (Or competition. Or is it customer service? Or simply over-saturation?)

The competition theory can’t be argued. Once upon a time I worked at the ONLY branch of Bath and Body Works situated inside the five boroughs of New York. Yep, us on Staten Island, we WERE the New York City store. And it was good. We had, of course, loads of customers who worked in Manhattan. But they came to us—after work, on weekends, and shopped.

And then the company decided it was ready to join the Disney-fication of Manhattan. It opened a huge store in the mall under the World Trade Center. It was a BIG store back then for them. I was one of the employees that helped them to set up before opening.

And they opened. And then, terribly surprisingly to the “Powers that Be,” but not at all to ME, my sales went down. Alas, not only did my sales go down, but for a time, those on their lunch hour in the Towers would pop down to BBW and purchase. Only to decide over the weekend that the scent was wrong, or some such. And since they were headed to the mall ANYWAY, well, they made us their return center. Ultimately, it led to my leaving the position because I was unable to maintain a +30% volume from the year before the WTC store opened.


Not much to do with quilting, you are right. I am getting to that (come on, you KNOW I blether on forever!!!)

Timmy and I took a trip to San Diego over the summer. And my girlfriends and I took a jaunt to some quilt stores in North Carolina last week. I Googled quilt shops in California, because HE Googled Car Museums. I found a bunch. And one, I even found had a Car Museum on the next corner. Bingo! It was out in El Cajon, and so we set our GPS eastward and headed out to the hot part of town.

We arrived a little after 4 pm. The sign said they closed at 5 pm. Now, being in retail for so long (and having had the opportunity, mostly repressed) to harass people out of the store so we can get on with it, I was aware that I couldn’t meander to the degree I might normally.

The store was FABULOUS. I am talking probably the nicest quilt store I have ever been in, bar none. HUGE, but comfortable. The color stories set through out, the overall feeling was like I had found my home away from home. It didn’t take long at all for my arms to become filled to over-flowing with bolts of fabric. I’m talking maybe 20 minutes and I had spent over $100 in single yard pieces. I was in LOVE.

And then I got to the counter, and the love affair was over. A cursory “Hello” was uttered to me. Not the simplest acknowledgement of any kind to any of the fabrics I was purchasing being one of their favorites, or very popular, or what are you making or …..well– or anything. I could have been at the deli counter at a supermarket.

Now if you’ve never bought fabric that might not shock you. But when you are buying fabric, even at Joanne’s’ where I had worked for 4 years, there was usually an interaction. After all, one Fabri-holic to another, you know, we find comfort in the fact the people in a quilt shop *UNDERSTAND* our addiction. They feed it. They caress it.

They usually comment on a color combination, or wonder what you are going to do with it (ANSWER—Did I have to DO something with it??)

So, while I stood in my solo contemplation of my lovelies being cut to size, I spotted a color combination I hadn’t noticed yet, and said to the cutter as I was picking up my sizable stack, “I’m just going to go and see if I can’t find a bit of that green…it would be awesome with this selection and I hadn’t even noticed!”

Her response—“Well, you have a few minutes yet. We close at 5.” Not, “Which shade of green? You can find them in the room to your left.” Not, “You are so right!! That would be beautiful together.”

Nope, ‘just hurry the hell up so we can go home.’

Double yeah.

Now, I have thought on mentioning the name of the shop. But since I want to write a nice little anecdote about another shop, and want to mention THEIR name, I feel I probably should. After all, I have told a lot of people how unhappy I was with the treatment I received at this California shop (Rosie’s Calico Cupboard)

Now, a few thoroughly enjoyable experiences.

We started out our quilt trip by collecting my NJ friend from the train station in Richmond so we could have a quick hit of quilt shopping before we left for North Carolina. We stopped in at Quilting Adventures, and of course she was bowled over by Joyce’s selection. We had a couple of wonderful impromptu chats with other women roaming about and found a fellow Staten Islander in between the bolts of fabric (maintaining my belief Staten Island is the center of the universe for some odd reason—or at least it plays well in the Game of Six Degrees of Separation)

A lovely little place where we spent Saturday morning was called “Knit One Smock Too” in Winston-Salem, NC. They have only the smallest of selection of quilting materials, as you can you tell by their name. My friend, a NY transplant, had us down last week for a fun-filled “quilting” weekend. (We did NO quilting, other than quilt shopping. Which is as my husband expected.) ‘Us’ being me from Virginia and our friend from Red Bank, NJ.

This shop was small, and it offers a variety of needlework arts. We walked in and the atmosphere screamed ‘Welcome.’ A few women were sitting around a table chatting about starting a Sit and Stitch. A woman came in and sat down with her project, stuck on a stitch and just knew someone would take the time to talk her through her difficulties.

We oohed and aahed through the store (we are NOT stealth shoppers) and the owner quickly, politely and without us feeling like she was hard selling, showed us add-ons to projects, and even suggested, with sincerity, that if we came down again, to call her and she could schedule a PRIVATE CLASS in any of the items we were drooling over. It was a place I could imagine stopping by of a Saturday morning with coffee for everyone and just settling down to hang out and be amongst kindred spirits…


We also went to Maryjo’s, a large fabric store, which doesn’t have the atmosphere, but was dizzying in its array of all things bolted. And while they were not chatty, they were friendly and the customers were too….

Why was I writing this? Dunno. It just was something I had observed. And I was lovingly folding all my new fabric and it all seemed to come together in my head.

Retail this Christmas will probably be hard. I am already having to explain to my powers that be that really, the customers who COME to my counter, they mostly leave happy, and with a purchase…but I can’t make them COME to the counter. And that seems to be a point of disagreement on their part. I know I do my level best and make an effort to find the good in the customers I deal with. And let me tell you, from the other side of the counter, if you have never been there, it’s not the easiest thing to do. And I feel I have trained my staff in a similar fashion. So, it’s now waiting on you, the consumer. The one thing I can’t control.

So, yeah.