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Former welding shop operators find satisfaction with embroidery business

Junior Nohl of Unique Embroidery in Willmar uses an embroidery machine Feb. 3 in the workshop of his business. Nohl and his wife, Kathy, used to operate a welding shop in Hancock before they opened the embroidery business five years ago. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Junior and Kathy Nohl were looking for a cleaner and easier career after they closed their Hancock welding shop nine years ago. The Nohls found their new career in a small embroidery business they started five years ago in Willmar called Unique Embroidery. Their welding shop was making parts for an aircraft company when the company cancelled all orders after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In one fell swoop, 80 percent of the shop's business was gone. Another customer pulled out the remaining 20 percent of business.

"In 30 days, we went from seven full-time employees to zero business,'' said Junior.

They sold the shop, which had grown larger than they wanted, moved to New London where they built their own home (all except the roof) and looked around for another business in which they could work together as they have all their married life.

They were visiting with a person in St. Cloud who was running an embroidery machine when the individual encouraged the Nohls to consider entering the embroidery business. They decided to try it.

"It was just something to get us through until we decide to quit,'' says Junior. "And we figured this was something that we could do as long as we wanted to.''

They bought an embroidery machine, received some training and opened a shop five years ago on Litchfield Avenue. Two years ago, they moved the business to the present location at 404 Seventh St. S.W.

The shop is basically a mom-and-pop operation and the Nohls work long hours to get the work done. They keep busy; orders are from one to two weeks out.

"It's kind of like the sign on the door. Hours are 9 to 5, but if it's not locked, we're open,'' says Junior.

Their granddaughter, Candace Nohl of Glenwood, works part-time in the shop and Sarah Van Dyken of Prinsburg is part-time sales person.

Unique Embroidery is a special-order shop. From one item to a thousand items, there's no minimum order, according to their Web site, They do their own art work and can customize T-shirts, bags, jackets, coats, golf bags, quilt blocks, baby items and caps. They offer a wide selection of items in the store.

Customers range from individuals and businesses to schools and organizations. Kathy says they enjoy doing different kinds of requests. Their funniest job was embroidering the words Thunder Down Under on boxer shorts for a wedding party.

"It's a real good way to personalize a gift,'' says Junior. "That's where a lot of our ones and twos come from: people wanting to buy a gift for somebody where they can personalize it.''

Before the Nohls operated their welding shop, Junior farmed with his brothers in the Hancock area and Kathy did bookkeeping. Also, they lived for a time in Peoria, Ill., where they worked for a manufacturing company.

Kathy enjoys crocheting, sewing and knitting, and Junior does carpentry, electrical work and plumbing. They and a contractor are currently gutting and remodeling the upstairs portion of their building into their living quarters. They saved the brick work and much of the flooring.

A signature found on an exposed rafter indicates the building is over 100 year old. The signer was J.F. Murphy of Los Angles, Calif. The date was Aug. 29, 1899.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150