I’ve read A Quilt Journalist Tells all by Meg Cox for as long as I’ve known about it. Each email is, as one would expect from a journalist, well written offering some insight into the world of quilting. This week Meg said something very clearly that has been on my heart for a while. Here’s a link to the full email, this is “reprinted with permission. Thanks Meg!
While Meg calls this a rant I see this more as a statement of reality. A side note, not only do I teach, write and quilt I work in a fabric shop that sells BERNINA, brother sells quilting, fashion and home decorating fabric as well as yarn. Did I mention we have classes in fashion, quilting and home dec? We do our best to meet the machine, class and fabric needs of our customers.
The Price We Pay:
A Rant on Consequences
I remember when I interviewed Len Riggio, the genius who built the Barnes & Noble chain, for a front page profile in the Wall Street Journal. It was 1992, and everybody in publishing was scared to death of B & N, predicting its success would mean the end of local bookstores.
Two years later, Amazon.com was launched, and the prophecy started coming true. When Amazon began, there were about 4,000 independent bookstores in the U.S. Twenty years later, there are less than half that number. Barnes & Noble itself is struggling to survive, while the second biggest chain, Borders, went bankrupt in 2011. When Borders shuttered its last 399 stores (down from the peak of 1,300 stores), 11,000 people lost their jobs.
I live in Princeton, a university town, and if it weren’t for the campus bookstore, all we would have left is the Barnes & Noble that just slunk off to a smaller spot in the local mall. I honestly don’t know whether this crisis makes me sadder as a reader, or an author.
But I do know this: I can’t sit idly by and watch the same thing happen to quilt shops. This rant is a call to action, asking all of you, my faithful readers, to help me prevent this scenario from happening to our quilt shops. You know, the places that feed our souls as much as our stashes? The kind of quilt shop where you feel like a character in Cheers: they know your name, and so much more.
Now I can hear you objecting already: “But quilt shops are different from bookstores because of what they sell. You don’t need to fondle the pages of a Dickens novel before buying it. You don’t need to bring your existing books from home to make sure they match the new ones in the store. And your local bookstore doesn’t teach you new ways to read.”
I agree, to a point. All of those distinctions should help quilt shops survive. Fabric is an ingredient, while a book is a finished product. And while there is something truly magnificent about a passionate bookseller who introduces you to a new book or author, the best quilt shop employees teach us how to turn our own dreams and visions into real, one-of-a-kind objects. Sometimes, even museum masterpieces.
But if quilters already appreciate these distinctions, the special functions of good quilt shops, then why are they behaving as they do? A new word was added to dictionaries this year, the verb “showrooming.” It refers to shoppers (not just quilters) who visit full-price retailers like they were showrooms that exist just to display merchandise, then walk out the door and buy the same goods online or at discounters. Sometimes, they even scan barcodes on items at the quilt shop, before buying the books, fabric or notions elsewhere.
Sure, most of us are on a budget of some sort, and it’s nice to get a good deal. But the reason those outlets, online and in storefronts, can charge such cheap prices is that they don’t supplement the goods with personal service. They don’t want to know your name — just your credit card number.
And here’s the thing: if we, as a community, keep treating our quilt shops this way, then eventually, we will only be able to shop at the bare bones places. Do you really want to drive 4 hours to fondle fabric or wait months for a quilt show?
Now, I am not saying you should burn those coupons from Jo-Anns, and only buy the highest priced batting you can find. It would be nutty to buy the highest quality materials to make a sundress your child will outgrow next year, let alone a costume for a 2nd grade play that will be worn twice. Discounters have their place.
However, when you are making a quilt you want to pass down through the generations or enter into quilt shows, it makes sense to buy the highest quality materials. And it isn’t just choice and quality we want from our quilt shops, but all those hard to price extras like technique tips and fabric-matching advice. Think of it this way: the local quilt shop is like a memory storage device, where the staffers know your quilting taste and history.
Let’s be clear: I’m not advocating against all discount shopping, or against e-sellers in general, even the fabric discounter owned by Amazon. I don’t know how I would survive without eQuilter.com when I’m looking for conversation prints or lots of different choices of red. And there are specialty e-sellers like Glorious Color, which sells pretty much every fabric Kaffe Fassett ever designed: where else would I find it?
But I deeply believe that it’s worth it on a regular basis to pay the extra few dollars for a book or fabric yardage at my local shop, knowing that I’m investing in the store’s future existence. How would I feel, if the worst happens, when I have a fabric emergency and no emergency supplier? What if I had no place to audition 13 different colors of blue to match the quilt I must finish for a wedding this weekend? Now that the big chain stores have cut way back on quilt magazines, where else can I take a peek at a dozen different current issues and perhaps find the perfect new pattern I didn’t know existed?
Do quilters want to be tiny molecules of algae in the vast sea of Big Data? Or do they want to be human beings, whose personal tastes and preferences are respected, even celebrated?
We all choose, every time we shop.