February 8, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 45°F


Local business succeeds in serving Ithaca niche

Images on the wall depict an array of nature scenes from bluebirds in a tree to robins in a field. Other works are abstract, using a variety colors and patterns. But the art that adorns these walls are not paintings. They are quilts.

From left, Merrie Wilent, one of the owners of Quilters Corner, helps Ithaca resident Deena Freed find a sewing machine to purchase. Freed’s interest in sewing started at a class at the store. Kathy Laluk/The Ithacan

Quilting has always been a creative pursuit for Linda VanNederynen, Katie Burnaby, Merrie Wilent and Cyndi Slothower. The four owners of Quilters Corner are celebrating their 15th year in business and their first year at the store’s new West State Street location.

he four owners started the store after the only quilting store in town closed. Not wanting to live in a town without a quilt store, the four women — and fifth member Sherry Haefele, who retired in 2003 — took on the endeavor of starting a small business. Burnaby said the original location was about an eighth of the size of the store they have now. She said their approach was different from that of most store owners.
“The conventional wisdom is, if you want to open a store like this, you should borrow a bunch of money and start out big,” Burnaby said. “But we’re all pretty conservative economically, so nobody wanted to go heavily into debt to do this. So we started out with a miniscule budget.”

Burnaby said that they were taking a risk of going broke when they wanted to expand, but they knew that their business would never hold in the small space.

“We thought, ‘OK. We had to do this,’” Burnaby said. “Maybe it won’t work, and maybe we’ll be broke in six months, but if we stay here, we’re never going to make any money. We have to grow. So we should take a chance and do it. And we did, and it worked out great.”

With this in mind, they moved to their new location on West State Street. VanNederynen said they wanted the new store to not only have more room, but to be comfortable for customers to browse.

“There’s a book in the retail industry that uses the term ‘butt-brush factor’ — women don’t like to shop when they have to brush butts with someone else,” she said.

Burnaby said an advantage of being a small business owner is being able to choose one’s own hours, but a lot of time is required.

“Which 20 hours a day [do] you want to work?” she said. “Being a small business owner is a lot of work, so you better be doing something you like.”

Brynne Sigg, who has been an employee at Quilter’s Corner for almost 14 years, said the reason Quilters Corner has continued to thrive is because they have found their niche.

“One of the reasons is quilting’s been around forever, and people are constantly reinventing it and [are] interested in it,” she said. “It’s a great craft.”

Kaye Tea, a retired schoolteacher who has been an employee at Quilters Corner for eight years, said quilting is her “hobby job.” Most of the women who work there, including the owners, have retired from another career and now devote their time to quilting.

To celebrate their anniversary, the owners are introducing a new brand of sewing machine called Baby Lock, as well as new quilting classes. VanNederynen, who is in charge of staffing, said people really like the store for its classes, which range from beginner sewing to advanced quilting techniques.

“While we don’t sit here and hold your hand through a project, we’re here to give advice,” she said.

Therese O’Connor, who has been a customer of Quilters Corner for eight years, said she has noticed a trend in new

constructions that uses the quilting method for clothing and tote bags. She

recently took a class in constructing jackets and has taken many of the store’s classes in the years she has been a customer. She said the classes are friendly and have a laid-back atmosphere.

“You just laugh,” she said. “You make mistakes, [and] it’s no big deal. The last class we had champagne and cake.”

Tea said that the employees of Quilters Corner are always busy creating new quilting samples for the store but that they are all doing what they enjoy.

“We like working here because we like to quilt,” she said.

The Ithacan can be reached at ithacan@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @IthacanOnline