The largest and most well-established quilt shop in New York City, The City Quilter, will close in October of this year. The shop opened in 1997 and is located in Chelsea. Co-owners and married couple Cathy Izzo and Dale Riehl welcomed more than 20,000 students into the shop to take classes over the years.
Business has been slow this past year, Izzo says, and she and Dale are nearing retirement age so they felt it was time for a change. “Our lease is up in October and it’s a five year lease,” she says. “Business has really not been good and we didn’t feel comfortable signing a lease for that long.”
Anticipating a need for a change, Izzo and Riehl worked for a year to find a buyer for The City Quilter, but without any luck. “Manhattan real estate is a big commitment and with revenue down so much we didn’t have a good balance sheet to show people,” she says.
The City Quilter expanded their Chelsea shop in 2011 and opened an art gallery devoted to exhibiting contemporary quilts. Izzo says the space they have now is perhaps too large. She adds that it’s very difficult to make good money as a shop owner. “People can earn so much more money doing almost anything else in New York,” she says.
Izzo came to the quilting industry after a 20 year career as a producer for CBS theatrical films. When she was searching for something to do that was tangible and would give her a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, quilting was the answer. Although she didn’t know how to sew, she set about learning in order to be able to quilt.
Cathy Izzo explains her love of quilting in this short video produced by Howcast.
The quilting industry has changed dramatically since she and Dale first opened the shop, Izzo says. “When we first started out there were 40 or 50 manufacturers of quilting supplies. When I go to Quilt Market now the amount of vendors has doubled. Plus the brands are now selling directly to consumers. “The pie is getting smaller and it’s not going to be a viable situation [to run a quilt shop],” she says.
Izzo worries about the long-term consequences of quilt shops closing. “We’ve taught a generation of people to sew. 10-15 years down the road, when that dries up, it will all blow away,” she says.
Beyond teaching classes, The City Quilter was also a hub for the quilting community in New York, serving tourists and residents alike. The New York Times referred to the shop as “the heart of New York’s quilting community.” In 2013 The City Quilter served as a collection point for donation quilts made for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. They’ve also hosted meet ups for The Quilt Alliance and numerous other special events.
The couple will be hanging onto one portion of their business. Several years ago Riehl had the idea to design and manufacture a line of New York City-themed fabrics which would be sold exclusively at The City Quilter. Although Izzo was hesitant at first – “I’m not an artist. It just seemed to so hard!” – the fabrics featuring images of subway maps, well-known landmarks, and the skyline have been a hit. “They’re not sold anywhere else. We don’t wholesale them. we control the entire process,” Izzo says. The couple will continue to sell these specialty prints online after the brick-and-mortar shop closes and they have plans to add new designs in the coming years. “It’ll be just enough to keep my busy in retirement,” says Izzo.
Quilter Leni Weiner lamented the shop’s upcoming closure in a recent blog post. “City Quilter was (and still is until October) a lovely store, a little gem with wonderful fabric, a terrific staff and a wide assortment of classes. I taught there many times and always found their students to be engaged and interested and highly talented. What a shame that we will lose yet another haven for quilters.”
Reflecting on her time owning The City Quilter, Izzo says, “Maybe it would be different if we had children to pass it on to, but we don’t. It’s time. I had a good run and I look back on it all very fondly. Everybody needs a change.”