Mari Heidt is a college professor and avid sewist who spent much of her life living in Wisconsin. For years Mari shopped at the Nancy’s Notions retail store and she attended the store’s annual warehouse sale for nearly two decades. When she heard the recent news that the store was closing, Mari says she was sad, but not surprised. Here’s why:
I read recently that Nancy’s Notions is closing its retail store in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and has discontinued Sewing Weekend and the yearly warehouse sale. This makes me really sad, and I’m sure anyone who knew the store and Sewing Weekend will be quite sad, too.
The loss of Nancy’s store will be a blow to Beaver Dam, and I’m certainly sorry for that. I’m more sorry to see the Nancy’s brand declining. Two of my best friends and I, all avid sewers, went to the Nancy’s Notions store many times, and went to her warehouse sale for 17 years running, where we met Nancy several times. We saw the store and Sewing Weekend change over time, becoming less and less the kinds of places that sewers and crafters wanted to be.
When we first started going to the warehouse sale and the weekend events, it was really fun and really busy. There were classes with national teachers, some of whom also gave free demos, “make and take it” areas, a quilt raffle by the local quilt group, and deals on books, fabrics, and notions that changed by the day and sometimes by the hour. There was also the fabric, from all different manufacturers and all at really slashed prices. You would wait to get things cut and the people behind the counter were a part of the fun, always good natured and happy to help. Almost all of the people working the sale were regular employees and really knew how to help. Most customers were also good-natured, and some parked a long way away and rode to Nancy’s on a school bus shuttle. If you got there early you could park in the VFW field across the street, but you did have to get there early. The entire event was well organized and centered on making a good experience for the quilters, sewers, artists, and other crafters who attended and shopped.
After the sale to Tacony in 2003, all of this gradually went away. Many of the vendors stopped coming, and we definitely missed some of the people who had come every year and had run fun demos and giveaways. The show got smaller and smaller, with fewer and fewer classes and other events and a decline in the notions and fabric offered. Where the entire warehouse had once been open for the sale, now only a small portion of it was open to customers. Where once there had been a lot of fabric of all types offered by the yard, there was now a limited amount of fabric offered only in pre-cut lengths.
Worst of all, it was almost completely joyless. The people who loved fabric and notions and had helped us year after year seemed to be completely gone. The last time we went, we parked right by the building and left after half an hour. There was nothing left for us at the warehouse.
“I can’t explain what happened here, but I know that it didn’t have to be like this. Nancy’s Notions became a successful brand, not because of Nancy Zieman’s personality but because she was a savvy businesswoman who knew her customers and their needs and shared their enthusiasm for the craft.”
Other people have those same skills and (importantly) a love of the craft as she had. It seems clear that there’s a disconnect between the company and the many types of crafters they would like to serve.
Sewing Weekend was a successful event that connected with these crafters. When it no longer connected, it simply died. In announcing the closure of the retail store in the local paper, Tacony also announced that a “brand refresh” was in the works. I sincerely hope that this refresh includes a return to the connection with the people who made the brand vibrant and successful to begin with.
As Nancy Zeiman said, “the love of sewing is our common thread.” This thread connects us to the companies we support as well and can connect us to Nancy’s again with the right leadership and an infusion of enthusiasm and joy that is sorely lacking now.