The fine folks over at Sew Mama Sew posted a link on Facebook today to a blog post by author Christine Haynes about the closing of Sew L.A. If you’ve not yet read it, I highly recommend it before you go any further. Go ahead; I’ll wait right here for you.
I commented on the link but decided to elaborate on my thoughts here because it’s my blog and I have thoughts. Many, many thoughts. As someone who works and teaches at an independent quilt shop, I found Christine’s insights eye opening and, frankly, quite sad.
I keep seeing people blaming the big corporations for the demise of shops like Sew L.A. and others but, ultimately, the blame lies with the consumer who stops supporting the small, indie business. I absolutely understand the need to be cost conscious; however, I know that money spent at local businesses like the one where I work/teach directly benefits other small businesses. For example, today I used some of my most recent paycheck at a funky local boutique on a cute pair of socks and letterpress card (made by an indie artist), then had a scoop of ice cream from a cool mom-and-pop shop on the walk back to the car. Tonight, my daughter had gymnastics practice at a family-owned gym she’s attended since age 3, which my paycheck also covers. And I’m not going to go into detail about how much of my paycheck is reinvested at work. (Oh, like you could resist after being around all that gorgeous fabric, day in and day out.)
No chain store comes close to the experience and knowledge of our employees and teachers, who have been known to spend hours helping a customer pick fabrics for a single quilt. (And those customers return with their finished projects, so happy to show them off — and we love it!) The folks who work at chain craft stores don’t have the ability to devote that much time to helping customers but that doesn’t mean they aren’t experienced or knowledgeable. Two of my friends — who also are two of the most talented seamstresses I know — I met while they worked the cutting counter at a chain store.
It’s no secret that my older son spent nearly three years working for a chain store. It was a great experience for him and he always got a kick out of surprising customers with his crafty know-how. The same store carried my first book — as did other chains — and I’m so grateful they did. I’m equally grateful that so many independent stores not only carried the book but taught classes from it (which made my heart grow five sizes!). I loved doing book signings and trunk shows at quilt shops, meeting the store owners and their employees (and often their families), chatting with folks about the projects they like to make and the loved ones for whom they sew.
I don’t think big chains are evil and out to destroy small businesses. I think there is room for everyone because they fill different needs. As consumers, we need to be cognizant of those roles and place as high a value on service, experience and community as we do bargains or we lose not only the choice of shopping with independent businesses but also the distinct character they add to our neighborhoods.