Sewing shop takes a notion and turns it into success
By SHERYL KAY
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 25, 2001
NORTHDALE -- A year ago they were watching their daughters play together, each woman contemplating a change in careers.
Today Veronica Bermudez, 34, and Melissa Helms, 37, own Keep Me In Stitches, a store devoted to sewing. The store, which opened last June at 14833 N Dale Mabry Highway, is nothing short of a modern-day retail success story.
"It took us six months to turn a profit, which is exactly what our projections were," Helms said. "Now we expect to go nowhere but up."
The store, which sells sewing machines, fabrics, patterns and notions, seeks to capitalize on changing perceptions about sewing. Long considered old-fashioned or for the budget-conscious, sewing has benefited from new technology and fabrics, and is viewed increasingly as an art form.
At least that's the word from the Home Sewing Association, a New York trade association that conducted a survey last year on attitudes about sewing. Of respondents who did not sew, 79 percent said they admire people who do, and more than 90 percent classified sewing as a form of creative expression.
"Today there's a different attitude about sewing, Helms said. "It's a fun hobby, not just something you do to dress your children."
The survey went on to say that 31-million women identify themselves as sewers, spending more than $3-billion on sewing-related products in 1999.
"Fabrics have changed, sewing accessories have changed -- threads that glow in the dark, solar-reactive threads," Bermudez said. "In the past it was typical homemade straight stitch garments. But now it's not embarrassing to say you made it anymore, because you're proud of it, because now it looks like something you bought straight out of a boutique."
Sewing's popularity comes as little surprise to Bermudez, who grew up in the industry. Her parents have owned and operated a sewing business all her life.
Helms, meanwhile, had no exposure to the business, but spent more than a decade as the owner of a highly prosperous hair care products distribution company.
"I had the business experience, and Melissa had business experience," Bermudez said. "I knew the industry, but Melissa knew how to take it a step further."
The women, both of whom live in Town 'N Country, say their relationship is like a marriage. Technology also has helped make sewing more exciting, broadening their market. Sewing machines can now be programmed to create all kinds of specialty designs.
"We see a lot of husbands come in," Helms said. "They do it collectively -- he may do the digitizing, she may do the sewing."
Children and young adults frequent the store, due in part to its sewing classes, which range from $20 for a single lesson to more than $100 for multiple classes. Last summer they offered a weeklong sewing camp for $350. Each graduate received a new sewing machine.
"From heirloom to quilting to smocking, from basic to intermediate to advanced sewers, we focus on our education," Bermudez said.
Keep Me In Stitches couldn't have opened at a better time for Jackie Viljoen, 16, of Avila. Having recently moved to the area from San Jose, the Gaither High School junior was feeling a little lonely and wanted a hands-on activity to occupy her free time.
"I had never sat at a sewing machine before," Viljoen said. "I only knew you press on some pedal on the floor, and a little needle moves up and down."
After signing up for the store's basic quilting class, Viljoen made a 3- by 5 1/2-foot Irish chain quilt for herself, and then made two more quilts as Christmas gifts for her sisters.
"I probably asked the dumbest questions anyone could ask, but they have always been so nice to me," Viljoen said. "Even the first time I walked in there, they treated me like family."
While the almost instant success has been most edifying to both partners, neither thinks she will want to add stores in the area or franchise. "We believe in doing something superbly well," Helms said. "That's much better than spreading yourself out too thin and not doing it well at all."
To learn more
Keep Me In Stitches will have two open-house parties on Saturday with information about classes that begin in April. Parties are planned from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 3 p.m. Teachers will answer questions and refreshments will be served. For more information, call 908-3889.
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