By Eric Crowell
Laurel Dormaier found out about Sew EZ Too after a friend recommended the store to her. She had sewn before, but mostly when she was younger. After she retired from education and her kids moved away, she felt she needed something to occupy her time, so she picked up knitting.
Big craft and fabric stores may dominate the national market, but Spokane sewing enthusiasts have had an alternative in the Garland District for over a decade: Sew EZ Too.
Sew EZ was started in Colville 30 years ago and branched out to North Spokane in 1996. Since then, the Garland store has acquired legacy customers who seem to be here all the time, sales clerk Melanie Vogt said.
In addition to taking classes here, Dormaier is also a daily visitor. She often takes Saturdays off.
"I'm on moratorium; I can't buy more yarn," she said. So now, she comes in to take classes and to meet new people.
In this way, Sew EZ Too functions as a community center. Some customers come to shop casually or to find something specific; others come for classes, and yet others are simply there to socialize.
"Customers make it in once or twice a week," Vogt said. At the very least, the people are here simply to enjoy themselves.
Often, customers will come in with questions regarding sewing or knitting or whichever technique they're working on, section manager Sara Zientek said. Some customers are exact with what they want help with, and others are very open-ended with their questions.
Classes are a major part of forming community at Sew EZ Too. An entire back room is dedicated to teaching the curious how to sew, and showing those who know the basics how to enhance and master their craft, said sewing instructor Shirley Birch. For the past decade, she has shown students how to use software to create designs with the sewing machines. She has been sewing for 60 years. She, too, has made the store a second home. She teaches two to three times a week and drops by the store another five times a week.
Larisa Maichel found Sew EZ Too by simply driving by the building on Garland Avenue. She had done a little sewing before, but decided to take a basic sewing class, and started to really enjoy it. She has class once a week, but comes to the store a lot.
"I'm getting hooked to it, with all the new designs, new fabrics, and new threads," she said. "It's amazing what you can do."
The store is so large that there is an entire department dedicated solely to knitting and yarn and Zientek is in charge of it. "I've done it most of my life, since when I was a young child," she said. Zientek started out as just another customer. After seeing a sign reading"Help Wanted, Knitting Experience Required," she knew she wanted to work there and soon had the job.
One of the biggest tenets of Sew EZ Too's mission is customer service. "It's what small private shops need to be focused on," Zientek said. She gets periodic phone calls from customers wondering how to sew a certain pattern or stitch, particularly in the weeks before Christmas from flustered sewers wanting to know how to make gifts. The store averages about 60 to 70 people a day year round.
With the slow economy that Spokane and the rest of the country is struggling through, more people are making their own things, instead of buying them, Zientek said. But making can be as expensive as buying so Zientek strives to be carefully about customers' budgets. Besides, she said sewing comes with a "recreation value" that makes it more satisfying than sifting through the racks at a department store.
"It's a very healthy way to spend money," Zientek said.