Independent Quilting Supply Store Succeeds Despite Tough Market

Serena Runyan

To get the supplies they need, crafty Walla Wallans can turn to several places in town to find everything from beads to sewing machines. However, Walla Wallans are lately left with fewer local choices, mostly chains like Jo-Ann Fabric Store.
Photo by Emily Volpert

Stash, a quilting supply store on Main Street, is one of the few remaining independent crafting stores in Walla Walla.

Stash opened in 2009 and has been the go-to specialty quilting and sewing store for many Walla Wallans ever since. They sell books, sewing machines, ready-made quilting kits and, of course, fabric. For quilters, Stash is a cozy establishment with an overwhelming selection of colors and patterns.
On its website, Stash has links and instructions to create everything from dresses to pillows to quilts. Stash also has someone in the store for sewing machine maintenance.
But Stash isn’t just a supply store. It also hosts monthly and single-time classes throughout the year to introduce people to quilting and further the skills of old-timers. For a fee, these classes are open to quilters with all levels of experience.
“We wanted to open a business that would share our love of all things hand-made, teach classes and inspire others to learn how to sew. Providing a large mix of high quality, fun designer fabrics, notions, patterns and books along with Bernina sewing machines allows customers to create something that is fresh and modern using traditional and newer methods of sewing and quilting,” said Stash owner Kathy Hamada in an email.
The chain business Jo-Ann Fabric Store also offers classes, but not at the Walla Walla location. However, the Walla Walla branch does offer good deals on supplies to students, making them a popular destination for crafting needs.
“I go [to Jo-Ann] partly because they offer a lot of discounts,” said junior Anna Stebbins, who knits hats. “They do a 10 percent student discount, and they send coupons.”
For many, part of the appeal of Jo-Ann is the familiarity of a chain store. Students from out of town already know that Jo-Ann exists and can quickly find it in Walla Walla.
“I went there once, and found that it was exactly like most other Jo-Ann Fabrics that I had been to,” said junior Christa Lee, who likes to alter and design clothing, among other crafty hobbies.
Stebbins also goes to Jo-Ann because she knows they have what she wants.
“Jo-Ann has a decent selection of yarn and fabric, and that’s the only place I’ve been,” she said.
Unlike Jo-Ann, Walla Walla’s independent craft store scene is suffering. In the past several years or so, Walla Walla has seen many of its previous independent crafting stores close down. Specialty stores such as Norton’s Knits or Suzy’s Art Beads are no longer in business, and Walla Wallans are left with chain stores to supply them.
Mary Lou Norton, previous owner of Norton’s Knits, said there wasn’t enough of a consumer base to keep Norton’s Knits going.
“There was not enough traffic,” she said. DSC_0178
However, Norton doesn’t attribute the low customer base her store had to the presence of chain craft stores. She says the low business she got was knitting-specific.
“I sold knitting machines, and there’s just not as much of a market for those anymore,” said Norton.
Despite a tough market, Stash is still going strong with a supportive local consumer base.
“We have a lot of great local people who support us by shopping and taking classes from us. These customers appreciate having small businesses in their hometown and they buy locally when they can.”
Stash also has business from Walla Walla’s tourist traffic.
“The wine industry also brings us many customers that travel from Seattle, Portland, Spokane and all over the Northwest. Our online business is growing and many of the people that shop when they are in town visiting also shop with us online,” said Hamada.
While many businesses have suffered recently, hope is not lost for local Walla Walla craft stores.