When is a quilt not a quilt? When it’s a lifeline.
“Historically, quilting was a social thing,” said Sue DeGolier, new owner of The Cutting Edge Quilt Shop in Rush City. “The ladies got together and did their quilting bees and experienced life together.”
DeGolier now hears firsthand how customers felt adrift when they thought they’d lose that lifeline when the shop (formerly Fabric, Fashions and More) was going to close last year after more than 26 years when owner Virginia Thorn needed time to care for her husband.
“There were people coming in,” said long-time store employee Sharon Gusk, “and when they thought it was going to close, they’d stand at the door, and tears would well up in their eyes. They’d say, ‘What are we going to do if we don’t have this shop?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t know!’”
Enter DeGolier: she and husband Dan had just bought a home on Knife Lake in Mora after having camped on a nearby property over the years, hoping to enjoy retirement there. In October DeGolier popped into the shop that carries fabrics, kits, books, patterns, notions and gifts. Skilled at sewing but not quilting, she asked about getting on a mailing list to hear about upcoming classes, but cashier Gusk was hesitant.
“I thought, ‘Oh, man, this is bad,’” Gusk recalled. “I told her, ‘Unless the store sells, there won’t be any here next year.’”
Retail Experience Pays Off
“At that point, I hadn’t thought of having a shop or doing anything,” DeGolier said. “I was retired now.”
But she couldn’t get the idea of buying the store out of her mind while she and Dan vacationed in Gatlinburg. Before retirement she had served as director of the volunteer program at Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia, which included overseeing chaplains, social workers and, fortuitously, the gift shop.
“I had that (retail) background,” DeGolier said. “I could be the owner and run the shop, but it would take me a long time before I’d be a competent quilter.”
She toured the 2,800-square-foot shop and classroom, met the owner and some of the seven staff members and asked questions. She corresponded with a banker about finance, checked out insurance and got to know the realtor.
“I can still remember I looked at my husband and said, ‘I think we should do it,’” DeGolier said. “It felt like jumping off a cliff. There was a bit of a rush to it, but also, ‘What am I doing?’”
Quick Transition Has Challenges
A lot had to happen in the short time from October to Dec. 21, 2020, when DeGolier signed the papers to close on the sale of the shop’s inventory and operations (she rents the space).
The shop stayed open during the transition, but it hasn’t been without challenges.
“The previous owner, because she didn’t know if she’d have a buyer, was dwindling her inventory,” DeGolier said. “But then because of COVID and production dropping off all over the world, getting new inventory has really been a challenge. All the storms and the weather have impacted that too.”
She said inventory levels are currently about 30% less than what she intends to carry in the store.
Another challenge DeGolier has overcome is installing a new “Point of Sale” (POS) system to improve inventory control, manage online sales through the website and upgrade the cash register. After almost a month of frustrated effort and a Sunday phone call with four Geek Squad guys remotely commandeering her four screens, they found the right combination of internet signal, modem and router to run the show.
Quality Sets Shop Apart
Other changes DeGolier has made include not renewing the contract to sell sewing machines in the store, freeing up a large table on the sales floor for projects and chatting. She’s moved displays around, painted walls and tweaked inventory.
She’s considering buying a long-arm sewing machine to quilt top and bottom layers together, a service currently offered through the store by outside contractors. In the future, the shop might also carry yarn or embroidery products.
There are two things she doesn’t plan to change: the high quality of her fabric and her staff.
The fabric she carries is actually a different weave and quality compared to non-quilt stores.
“It’s just like when you buy sheets, and it’s a different thread count,” DeGolier said. “People don’t always realize that.”
And having capable staff who are expert craftswomen themselves gives her shop a level of knowledge and service above other fabric outlets. Her employees create the quilted items seen throughout the store and receive the money when they’re sold.
“You go some place and they can cut your fabric for you,” she said, “but they can’t help you.”
To sharpen her skills, DeGolier herself is signed up for an upcoming class taught by none other than previous owner Virginia Thorn.
“She’s an instructor,” DeGolier said. “She lives close by and pops in once or twice a week.”
Connection is Crucial at Shop
It’s that small-town camaraderie that makes The Cutting Edge stand out, evidenced by its most popular feature: Sisters in Stitches Club, a group of 50 to 60 women who meet once a month to work on projects together, laugh, eat, and hold onto that lifeline.
Before COVID, they met in groups of about 20 women in the back classroom where they chose from three pre-selected projects to work on through the year.
With social distancing, they now meet in groups of about five, have canceled their popular lunches, but still make the “Sisters” a priority.
“I started doing the club in 2002,” Gusk said. “So this is our 20th year. I have one member that started in 2002, and she’s still coming.”
The group includes women from a wide area – Gusk mentions Cambridge, Moose Lake, Grantsburg and Forest Lake – and all ages, as younger generations show interest in “cottage” skills.
DeGolier said that connection with her customers is what brings her into the shop every day.
“Towards the end of my career (at the hospital),” she said, “I was working on establishing a grief support network. Well, just last week, one (customer’s) father had died from COVID, and then an exchange student they’d had died from COVID, so you hear that as you’re talking – you’re cutting their fabric, you hear their story. It’s that part of it that makes it really rewarding – to touch people and touch their lives.”
The store will be holding a grand opening celebration April 23-24 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with store specials, door prizes and refreshments.