“One of my fondest memories was the move to our present location. We kept the store open while we moved. It was fun actually, and we moved everything in one day,” Pifer said. “My staff was wonderful in helping to make the move as well as helping customers at the same time. Of course, my husband, Jim, and our family helped. Our daughter, Sandy, and her husband, Rick, came from Cincinnati and our son, Jim, and his wife, Jody, came from Philadelphia to assist.”
Jim and Sue Pifer moved to Elkins in 1978 when Jim was transferred here by the USDA Forest Service.
“I am a home economist, and before I opened the business, I was a nutritionist with the Women, Infant and Children’s Program administered at that time by the Family Health Service,” Sue Pifer said. “After four years with the WIC program, I decided it was time for a change. Sewing and quilting had always been my avocation and when I learned there was space available at 222 Davis Ave., I decided to go into business for myself. Owning and operating this kind of store was something that I had always wanted to do.
The Pifers opened the store with inventory purchased from the Country Corner.
“We added quilting fabrics and notions very soon afterward,” Pifer said. “If my memory serves me correctly, we had about 1,800 square feet of floor space. When we opened the store, fabrics were available several other places in town but I felt there was a market for our business.
From the very beginning, Pifer’s goal was the educational aspects of the business — teaching and encouraging people to quilt and sew.
“Education is very important in the quilting and sewing world today. If inspiration and supplies are not available, people will do something else with their time,” Pifer said.
Pifer said she thinks what sets Elkins Sewing Center apart from other fabric shops are the classes she offers on a wide variety of quilting, sewing and craft techniques. Elkins Sewing Center publishes a newsletter with a list of current classes that is mailed to more than 3,000 interested sewers. If a person wants to learn to sew or quilt, or make a particular project, there is probably a class available. “Sewing classes are also a good place to make new friends,” she said.
When asked about the impact of the economy on her business, Pifer said, “The changes in the national economy have less of an impact on our business than on some other types of businesses. When budgets are tight, people consider making gifts for others. They will choose to make things to update their homes. The Elkins economy is different than what the media says about the national economy. Our economy is never as good as that in large cities, but neither is it ever as bad.”
When Elkins Sewing Center opened, the only help Pifer had was her daughter and one part-time employee. By the following March she had one full-time employee. “Now I have four employees whose schedules vary according to their personal preferences and store needs,” she said. “In addition, quilting classes have been taught for many years by Fran Kordek, professional quilter and quilt teacher. Several other individuals in the community also teach classes.”
Pifers family has been involved with the store since it opened. “In 1982, computer technology was just beginning to be incorporated into the sewing industry and my son, Jim Jr., helped me with computerization,” she said. “Often we have samples on display created by my daughter, Sandy Davis. My husband, Jim, has provided sewing machine service from the beginning, and for the past 12 years has been our full-time sewing machine service technician. We attend training sessions offered by Husqvarna Viking two or more times a year to be able to provide great customer service. He is a certified technician and I am certified in other aspects of the sewing machine business.”
In 1982, the level of computerization of sewing machines was very primitive compared with today’s technology. The first computerized sewing machines had bulky cassettes for programmable alphabets and stitches.
“They were quite rudimentary compared to the machines we have now which use USB sticks to transfer designs from a computer to a sewing machine. Some of today’s machines can be updated directly from the Internet. People who are not involved in sewing don’t realize that the same technology that is used in medical equipment or their cars or communications is also used in our sewing machines,” Pifer said. “We have Husqvarna Viking sewing machines in the store that range in price from $99 to several thousand dollars. There are also many accessories such as computer software and designs, specialty presser feet, and more available to make the quilting and sewing experience easier and more enjoyable. Anyone who can operate a microwave can operate our touch stitch sewing machines. The purchase of a sewing machine at Elkins Sewing Center includes individual training so that the new owner is comfortable with the many features of the new equipment. We also have on-going bi-weekly or monthly classes that help people become more familiar with their machines.”
Pifer said her primary customer base is in Randolph County and the several surrounding counties. “I also have sewing machine customers, though, that come from as far away as the Ohio River Valley and the Washington, D.C., area,” she said. “We have many long-term customers who have had several machines over a period of time. Some of our customers from the Canaan Valley area are folks who have a second home there.”
According to Pifer, there are only five Viking dealers in the state of West Virginia: Morgantown, Parkersburg, Dunbar, Martinsburg and Elkins.
“We have experienced continual growth,” she said. “I think it’s important to remember that from the beginning, I’ve had a newsletter that keeps our customers informed about the classes we offer covering all aspects of quilting and sewing.
In 1982 when Elkins Sewing Center opened, people were making clothing — there were several dressmakers in Elkins — but now there are very few, Pifer said. “Today, people enjoy making quilts and special items for their homes and families. Elkins Sewing Center has also changed with the times and people’s interests. We’ve always tried to be flexible and meet our customers’ needs. I feel we have continually encouraged creativity in our customers. Through our quilting classes hundreds of people have learned to quilt,” she said.
“One of the things that is very important and means a great deal to me is the people who have come in and told us that Elkins Sewing Center and my staff have made a difference in their lives,” Pifer said. “Sewing is related to important times in people’s lives. They take a special pride in making gowns for weddings, christening, proms and other important life events. People also make memory quilts to commemorate many of these special events. We feel honored to have been allowed to share in these special times.”
According to Pifer, she and her staff will continue to serve the sewing and quilting needs of Elkins and the surrounding area for a long time yet to come. “I feed that our business is meeting community needs or it wouldn’t still be here. We have no plans to change.”
Elkins Sewing Center is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and remains open on Friday evenings until 7 p.m. to help customers get a jump on weekend project.
For more information, call 636-9480 or visit www.elkinssewingcenter.com.
(The Inter-Mountain/Wayne Sheets)
GOING STRONG — Sue Pifer, right, assists Betty Roberts, a longtime customer of the Elkins Sewing Center, in becoming acquainted with the large array of new stitching and embroidery capabilities of a new Viking sewing machine.