A pattern of success: After 54 years, Fabric and Textile Warehouse will close
WILLMAR — Customers at least six deep were in line recently at the Fabric and Textile Warehouse with carts filled to the top with bolts of colorful fabric — vibrant cottons for intricate quilts, solid textiles for upholstery projects and fleece for cozy blankets.
"What are we going to do?" lamented one woman, anticipating the upcoming closure of the store, located just west of Willmar.
It's been a common refrain from customers since owner Sue Danielson announced in early March that her stores in Willmar as well as Mitchell, South Dakota, and Spencer, Iowa are closing.
Started in 1964 by her father, Bill Hogan, with the name "World of Fabric," the stores will be missed, Danielson said.
But she said it's time to end her busy career and spend more time with her five grandchildren.
"It's a bittersweet decision for me," Danielson said. "We've been here 54 years. That's a long time for an independent business."
A final closing date hasn't been set but will likely be determined by how quickly inventory is depleted, she said.
Loyal customers dreading the absence of the popular full-service fabric store were taking advantage of storewide discounts and stocking up on fabric for future sewing projects.
"It's been busy," Danielson said. "People are stashing, and that's OK."
Danielson grew up in the family business, which started as a children's clothing and toy store in downtown Willmar before transitioning to a retail fabric store.
Despite the changes, she said it's still an "old-fashioned, full-fledged fabric store" that carries fabric for quilts, apparel, home decorating and hunting and sporting gear as well as sewing patterns and notions such as buttons, zippers, fringe and sequins.
"We have the whole gamut," she said. "You don't find that in a lot of our competition."
She started helping in the store when she was 6 years old, counting buttons during inventory, and went to market in New York with her dad "when she was a kid."
After getting a four-year college degree, she worked alongside her father — whom she credits for teaching her how to run the business with "honesty" and "integrity" — and took over all operations in 1997.
Over the years they had stores in about a dozen towns in four states — Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Besides the one in Willmar, the remaining stores include one in Spencer that opened in 1973 and one in Mitchell that opened in 1979.
Danielson, who lives in Willmar, travels back and forth among the three stores in a large, red delivery van to transport merchandise from the warehouse here.
Having excellent managers and knowledgeable staff has made it possible for her to successfully run the three stores, she said.
"You couldn't ask for a better staff," she said. "As an independent retailer, you need people on the floor that represent you and treat customers well."
Danielson said she also could not ask for better customers — she called them "creative" people who "make something from a raw product."
It's common for customers to bring in their completed projects to the store for a "show-and-tell" with the staff, said Danielson, who has seen multiple generations of seamstresses come through the doors.
"They're excited. They're fun," she said. "We've had wonderful customers."
Danielson carried on her dad's tradition of giving discounts to 4-H and churches.
"We are going to miss them greatly," said Mary Ann Peterson, of rural Sunburg, who was buying fabric for her church's quilt project. "We don't know what we're going to do," she said. "It keeps our church missions going."
Danielson has also supported projects to benefit veterans by donating fabric that volunteers sew into bags for wheelchairs and walkers.
Since the program began 12 years ago, she estimated they have donated nearly 3,000 yards of fabric for 4,200 walker bags and 940 wheelchair bags that were sent to veterans nursing homes.
At first the bags were made by volunteers in a one-day sew-a-thon in each community, but later on her staff put together kits with the fabric and patterns that volunteers sewed on their own and returned.
"I am so thrilled that our customers stepped up and supported our soldiers and veterans," she said. "We're blessed to live in a community like this."
Danielson also provided pillow patterns that many 4-H'ers made for deployed sailors along with the note that said, "Wherever you lay your head you are thought of and loved."
Danielson said if an organization wants to continue these projects after the stores close, she will give them the patterns and her contacts.
As she coordinates the going-out-of-business sales and eventual closure of the stores, Danielson is looking forward to having time to spend with her five little grandkids.
She has her own stash of fabric tucked away and now she's hoping she'll have time to teach them to sew.