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.