In the fall of 2016 I closed our very successful quilt store, SPOOL, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. By closing the store I was cutting short the life of a business that by all accounts was doing really well.

SPOOL was three years old and had already gotten great press, even winning the highly coveted Quilt Sampler Top 10 Shop of the Year Award given by Better Homes and Gardens. I’m not bragging when I say it was a remarkable store. Things were very bright, with one exception: I had become dreadfully unhappy.

Owning a quilt shop, or any small independent retail business, is amazing amounts of hard work. Working 15-18 hours a day was not unusual and that meant time not spent with family or being able to peruse any personal joys. I had no time off. I actually worked on the day I had major surgery. As the saying goes, “There is no rest for the wicked or those in retail,” and that was true for me.

Photo courtesy of Maddie Kertay
I had always envisioned SPOOL as an offshoot of my online community, BadAss Quilters Society, which, at the time we opened, already had an eight thousand member Facebook group. This gave SPOOL a firm starting spot if not locally at least in the world of social media. We came out of the gate with great media attention that helped us have a highly successful launch and first year. What I had not envisioned was how much the store would overshadow my whole life with some positive, but mostly negative side effects.
Photo courtesy of Maddie Kertay

Recommended reading

During my time of working on these hard choices I did a lot of reading and recommend these books if you are looking for help in making choices. While they are not all specifically business books they are about the business of life.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

It was not like I did not know hard work or long hours – you don’t take an unknown Facebook group and blog to now 19 thousand followers without hard work, but the hours put into brick and mortar retail are different, less flexible and saddled with an amazing amount of overhead that needed to be met each month.

The irony is that I love creating a magical retail experience. The look of delight on each customer face when they would walk in our door for the first time, their tiny, happy gasps or the occasional “whoop,” meant we were doing it right. Still it wasn’t enough and I knew I had to make a change for my own wellbeing.

To say closing SPOOL was not a popular decision among fans and customers would be an understatement. Yet in my gut I knew that no matter how big we grew, how much more social media acclaim we received and even how many people drove half way across the United States to visit us, I had made a Big-M, Mistake. (A Big-M Mistake in my book is one that reaches so far and wide as to create ripples past your own door and out into the world). All the success in the world could not make up for being so unhappy on a daily basis.

To help me process the feelings surrounding the store’s closing I had to mentally break apart the idea of making a mistake from that of being a failure.
In our culture these two concepts are so inexplicably connected as to be grammatical equivalents, but the truth is that they’re not. To make a mistake is to make the wrong choice based on available information. Failure is another thing altogether. Failure is rooted in shame and the stories we tell ourselves about our worthiness. It is hot and painful and comes mostly from within. I have no shame in making the choice to close SPOOL no matter how much tooth gnashing and shame offering people felt the need to share with me about the decision.

And offer they did! While some were just quietly weepy to lose a progressive-leaning fabric haven in an otherwise rather traditional area, some were free with their accusations that I had no “right” to close and that as a service business “I owed it to the community to stay open”. And yet their shame was an offering that I was not obligated to accept, much like that seasonal fruitcake that does second duty as a doorstop.

I held onto our message that we were making this change for our own reasons, having nothing to do with failure. I’m glad that I was personally able to protect myself and yet also remain vulnerable enough to understand that each of our customers had their own attachments to the store and some felt the need to vent. I embraced the idea of being part of having created a business that was loved, while acknowledging that my customers were sad. Their sadness did not have to leave me feeling manipulated or pulled down.
There is no doubt that change, even for right reasons is scary. It was something that had haunted me for a good long time and summoning the courage to speak my truth and admit out loud that I had been wrong and had made a mistake, that a retail store and its obligations were more than I wanted, wasn’t easy. There were times when I was scared witless, but as Brene Brown wisely says, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”  This choice did not indicate a weakness on my part. It was just that extracting myself from my mistake was difficult and took courage.

I’m now working daily to build Badass Quilters Society into an income generator that gives me the luxury of maintaining the industry connections I cherish while caring for my family in a way that best fits my desires and values. Each day we’re a day further down our own path and I always reserve the right to start over, again.

Photo courtesy of Maddie Kertay
Maddie Kertay

Maddie Kertay


Maddie Kertay is the founder of BadAss Quilters Society, wife, mother and eater of raw cookie dough when no one is looking. Her passion is to the bring a greater since of voice and inclusion to the quilt and crafting world.

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