Wednesday, April 16, 2014

So Long, Waechter's Silk Shop


When a town loses any fabric shop, it's a sad day for those who sew. When my town, Asheville, North Carolina, loses a fabric shop with a ninety-year history and a unique focus on dressmaking, it's much sadder.


I don't think the demise of Waechter's Silk Shop points directly to any large trends in the sewing world. As far as I could tell, the shop seemed to be thriving to the extent that a brick-and-mortar plus online specialty retailer can reasonably expect to do. Not that selling fabric is what anyone would do simply to make money. But the immediate motivating factor for the end of this tradition seemed to be that the current owner, Joyce, decided to retire and made the business decision to close rather than to sell the shop.


It's one of my family's apocryphal stories, how my great-great Aunt Ethel, a professional dressmaker, saw Waechter's as the height of quality and selection. She visited the Asheville store, then on Wall Street, back in the 1950's and 1960's on behalf of her wealthiest and most discerning clients. I heard from Lucille Neilson, the owner of Asheville's other shop catering to sewers (The House of Fabrics, still in operation), how Waechter's used to keep the fine fabrics under lock and key, behind the sales counter. To see a certain piece of cloth, one had to apply to the snooty salesmen and have the bolt brought out ceremoniously for inspection.

In recent years, under Joyce's direction, Waechter's had maintained its focus on high-end, unique fabric, and had differentiated itself with a particular emphasis on sewing creative and special occasion garments for children. While sewing for children is not a particular interest of mine, I thought it was perhaps a canny area of specialization (what with all the doting sewing grandmothers and such).

Somehow I managed to visit the shop three separate times during its closing sales, resulting in the purchase of some nice fabric and, what's even more exciting for me, some terrific new tools and notions. For example, the display dress form on the left in the picture above. And a tailoring board. And a superior vintage tailoring point presser/clapper, ham and seam roll, from June Tailor. I think the June Tailor tools must date from the early 1980's, and cost the princely sum of $3 for all. Plenty of office supplies, the most enviable of which is a vintage postage scale.


The new display form looks right at home.


My thread collection has been fortified, I have 400 yards of black twill tape and I brought home more loot besides. Probably none of that makes up for the loss of the local store, but I do understand that things change and businesses come and go.

Waechter's will certainly be missed.

19 comments:

  1. So sad to see such a wonderful store close. You will enjoy your new tools and always remember where they came from.

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    1. Linda, I remember from your previous comment that you are a long-time Waechter's shopper. It is too bad.

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  2. I have been tempted to buy the tailoring board but it is so expensive! I would love to hear how you like it once you've had a chance to use it. I do love my ham though and would not live without it.

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    1. Jenny, I've been using it for over a month. My mom got it for me for my birthday, when things were "only" 25% off. I noticed at the end they had one left, which would have been 75% off. Now that would have been a great deal. Anyway, I have really loved it so far. I had a point presser before, but it was long and narrow and quite unstable. Since the tailoring board has three surfaces, one of those serves as a support and makes it feel much less wobbly. One of the things I used it on was making a bag with curved gusset seams. It was so much easier than pressing the seam allowances open either over a ham or a straight point presser.

      I've also used it on collars, and there too the added stability plus the curved surface are great. So, as you can tell, I really do like it and think it is worth the price and the extra room it takes up. But of course we have to wait until we can afford to add things to the tool arsenal. In the wake of this sale, I now have two point presser/clappers, the tailoring board, two hams, a seam roll and a sleeve board. And I'm not feeling as though that is too much!

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  3. WHAAAT??? And I never got to gooooooooooo...

    Excuse me while I cry forever. Alas. Congrats on the close-out loot, though!

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    1. During Lindy Focus it just seemed hard to switch our attention to sewing, and now it's too late! Drat, drat, drat. On the other hand, you seem to have your sourcing all worked out :).

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  4. I think it's sad to see the closure of any independent business with a long and treasured local history. I am fascinated by the tools you bought, the little scales caught my eye, but since they aren't seamstress paraphernalia, I actually recognise what they are... Please tell me - what are hams? I assume they are the padded things with the checked fabric, but what do you do with them? I am intrigued. Ignorant, clearly, but intrigued! xxx

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    1. Curtise, hams are very solidly stuffed, fabric covered forms that are used for pressing curved seams and areas during sewing, to give them the proper shape. We have all sorts of tools for pressing, which are really just as important and useful as the sewing machine to getting a good result! Thanks for asking!

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  5. It's a shame that she didn't, OT wasn't able to sell the store. It truly is a loss.

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    1. I only know her slightly, Rhonda, and I'm similarly no expert on selling a business, but my guess is that she decided it didn't make sense for her to sell it. She's very straightforward and practical--not one to make a decision based on emotion! It would be difficult to find a buyer who could either purchase outright or obtain bank financing for such a purchase, since the value of the inventory must have been substantial. I would imagine she decided she didn't want to provide owner financing and the long-term complications associated with it.

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  6. I hate to see a loss of what clearly was a great business. We lost a fabric store a couple of years ago, Baer Fabrics, they had been in business for 103 years, the memories that building held for all the locals, the sadness we felt as they demolished the building.

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    1. If only we could hold onto these really wonderful links to a past that remain relevant in the present.

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  7. A shame indeed, but you really scored!

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    1. Yep--it's a bad news/good news kind of scenario!

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  8. Ohhhh, so bitter sweet.... So sad to lose such a great fabric shop with focus on fashion fabrics. Sweet that you scored and these items will continue to live in your sewing studio.

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    1. Micki, you are right--the mementos will be all around me every time I sew.

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  9. hello
    I recently saw your blog on Weachtors closing and was sad to hear that. I just moved here from up in the mountains and am in need of a seamstress / tailor. Ive been in business for 27 years.
    My shop and color Studio are on Haywood Raod and I have included a link for you to cut and paste to see on Pinterest what kinds of fabrics I created. My current seamstress of 10 years is leaving. If you are interested and or know of any one could you please pass this information to anyone else. thanks
    so much.

    http://www.pinterest.com/kane1510/michael-kane-studio/

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    1. What beautiful work, Michael! I would love to visit your studio sometime. I have one seamstress friend who might be interested--I will give it some thought. For work I am a freelance writer and I plan to stay focused on that. But maybe you need a business website?? It is too bad about Waechters, for sure. Have you been to House of Fabrics on Merrimon Avenue?

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  10. Oh no! I never got around to using the $100 gift certificate I was given years ago.

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