Fabric Depot, Portland, Oregon’s famously enormous fabric store, is closing. Founded in 1992 in a space formerly occupied by a Fred Meyer supermarket in Southeast Portland, Fabric Depot was one of the largest locally and independently owned fabric stores in the United States.
For more than two decades Fabric Depot was a beloved institution for the sewing community in Portland and throughout the Pacific Northwest. With more than an acre and half of floor space and over 30,000 bolts, the store truly seemed to have everything.
Kona Solids. Image courtesy of Sewtopia.
“It was just so luxurious to walk in,” says designer and craft writer Susan Beal. “Just one of those experiences where you feel so lucky that you live in a city that has a fabric store like this and you can just go get anything, from the most basic denims and quilting cottons, to any supply you can imagine, and then beautiful special collections, too. For such a huge store, it had so much charm and character. There’s something magical about walking in and seeing everything at once.”
A Community Place
Fabric Depot was also a hub for learning new skills and meeting with sewing friends. The Portland Modern Quilt Guild, which has 350 members, rented a large classroom at Fabric Depot once a month for their “Saturday Sew Days.”
“What was great was any guild member could come, bring their own machine, chat with friends, sew for most of the day, go buy stuff, and then come back and finish their project with something new,” says Beal, who serves as Programs Coordinator for Meetings for the guild.
The store also supported designers, holding events and hosting classes taught by local and national teachers. When Amy Newbold was organizing a shop hop for attendees of her Sewtopia sewing conference in 2016, Fabric Depot was a must-visit destination. Not only did the store welcome her 60 conference-goers with open arms; they also catered their lunch.
Mathew Boudreaux of Mister Domestic with his daughter, Helena, at a sewing event at Fabric Depot.
For Mathew Boudreaux of Mister Domestic, Fabric Depot was like a home away from home, even before he started his sewing business. “It was very much a family. It felt different from any other fabric store. They got to know me and my daughter. As Mister Domestic evolved and I wanted to plant some roots locally, they took an interest in me and I took an interest in them. Even though it was gigantic, it felt very special. It’s definitely been my playground.”
When Quilt Market, the industry trade show, was in Portland last spring, Fabric Depot, in conjunction with the Portland Modern Quilt Guild, hosted a series of special events featuring well-known designers.
Signs of Trouble
And yet, over the last few years, it became increasingly clear that the business was suffering. Yelp reviews from recent months tell a tale of dramatically reduced inventory.
On September 13 on reviewer wrote, “I just went to Fabric Depot for the last time. It was so empty of fabric selections. I asked a sales associate if they were going out of business! The fabric selection is horrible. It’s sad because just two years ago Fabric Depot was a vibrant, busy store.” Dozens of other reviews express similar sentiments.
Fabric Depot staff pose for a picture when the announcement about inventory reduction was posted.
A few months ago, Fabric Depot posted an announcement on their social media accounts in response to inquiries about whether they were going out of business. “Over the past few years we have fallen on some hard times as many in the industry have,” the announcement read, in part. “It is hard for locally owned brick and mortar stores to compete with big box and online pricing. As a result, we have had to cut back the quantity of the inventory we carry in an effort to preserve the quality. We know you miss ‘The Old Fabric Depot’ (and we do too), but keeping so much in stock is just not sustainable for us anymore.”.
Quilt designer Sam Hunter regularly visits Fabric Depot and had noticed its decline. “It used to be the kind of store that you could spend a half a day going up and down the aisles. Then floor started contracting,” Hunter says. “They actually walled off a significant chunk of it and it got so sparse. They rented out their outdoor parking area. They reduced the store hours a while back and laid off a whole bunch of people.”
Anthonius “Tony” Bosboom founded fabric Depot in 1992. A native of the Netherlands, Bosboom was born in 1923, the thirteenth of fourteen children. After World War II he spent ten years in the Dutch army, rising to captain. While stationed in Jakarta he met May Marie Newman, a secretary in the US Foreign Service, and a native of Tillamook, Oregon.
The original Fabric Depot sign going up in 1992.
In 1956 the couple moved to Portland to start a new life and in 1968 founded Fabricland, a business that would grow to 92 fabric stores across the West. They sold Fabricland in 1990 and, two years later, opened one giant fabric store: Fabric Depot. Bosboom died in 2014 at the age of 90. His daughter, Trudy Bosboom Shurts, and granddaughter, Elaine Love, were involved in running the business after his death.
Last year John Eisenberg came on as Operating Principal and General Manager. Previously Eisenberg had spent eleven years at Macy’s, most recently as Vice President of Stores.
The Nelly Bean Coffee shop inside Fabric Depot opened this year.
One change that was implemented by the new management was updating the computer systems. Fabric Depot was known for its old-fashioned cash registers. Although they were quaint, some say that the archaic registers were a sign of outdated financial systems overall. “They had no idea how much was selling of what,” says one former employee who wished to remain unnamed. “Inventory was done by weight. Literally, each bolt was weighed.” This year the store got a digital point-of-sale system that tracked yardage for the first time. They also opened a coffee shop inside the store selling locally roasted coffee.
Clearly, it wasn’t enough. The Fabric Depot ecommerce site has already been shut down and the business will close for good on Sunday, October 21, at 5pm.