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The Elkins Sewing Center named Business of the Year

January 2, 2010
By Wayne Sheets, Contributing Business Writer

The Elkins Sewing Center, owned and operated by Sue Pifer, has been named Elkins' 2009 Business of the Year by the publisher and business writer of The Inter-Mountain.

Pifer's business has been selected for the honor because of the services and products she and her employees provide the community of sewing enthusiasts of north central West Virginia and for her participation in and support of the community's continued economic development, preservation of its cultural and historic heritage.

As a longtime member of the Downtown Promotional Committee, Pifer consistently participants in the organization's programs and projects. She takes part in all the organization's shop locally advertising campaigns and gives freely of her time and resources in support of the community's fundraising activities directed toward preserving its cultural and historic heritage.

Pifer first opened her store at 222 Davis Ave. in June 1982 where Baer's clothing store had been for many years. In September 1995, she moved the business to it current location at the corner of Davis Avenue and Third Street.

"One of my fondest memories," Pifer said, "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. My staff was wonderful in helping to make the move as well as helping customers at the same time. My husband, Jim, and our family also helped. Our daughter, Sandy, and her husband, Rick, came all the way from Cincinnati and our son, Jim, and his wife, Jody, came from Philadelphia to assist.

According to Pifer, one of her main goals from the time she opened the business was teaching and encouraging people to quilt and sew.

"Education is very important in the quilting and sewing world today," she said. "If inspiration and supplies are not available, people will do something else with their time. What sets the Elkins Sewing Center apart from other fabric shops are the classes we offer on a wide variety of quilting, sewing and craft techniques."

Pifer designs and schedules her classes to accommodate students as young as age 8.

The Sewing Center publishes a newsletter with a list of current classes that is mailed to more than 3,000 sewing enthusiasts throughout the region. Additionally, the class schedules and other information are available on the store's Web site

In addition to teaching classes, the sewing center sponsors guest speakers and events. In June 2009, the Viking Sew-Mobile made a stop in downtown Elkins, the only place in West Virginia visited by the mobile showroom. It featured the latest in sewing technology and inspirations. In October, Sue Hausmann, host of America Sews on PBS, was a guest speaker at the sewing center. More than 60 people from across the state traveled to Elkins for the event.

"We are constantly asked how our ailing economy has impacted our business," Pifer said. "If anything, it has helped us; it continues to grow. When budgets are tight, people consider making gifts for others or choose to make things to update their homes."

Donna Rozich, an employee of 14 years, and the other employees readily agree.

"Our business has not been slowed by the ailing economy. It would seem that sewing would be one of those things in a family budget that would be cut during times like these, but that's not the case at the Elkins Sewing Center. The sewing classes are as full as they have ever been and sales are doing very well."

Satisfaction with and the enjoyment of a job is more often that not indicated by the rate of turnover of a company's employees. Pifer's employees have an average of nearly 12 years of service with her, the youngest having just a little less than 10 years. Ann Nunn, Pifer's second full-time employee, had a teaching degree and had always wanted to teach. She began working for Pifer in March 1983 and for 18 and a half years she worked for the sewing center before being offered a full-time teaching job.

"Trying to decide whether to quit the sewing center and take the teaching job was a tough decision," she said. "I really enjoyed working for Sue. It was a fun place to work because we had the best people in the world to work with."

Pifer now employs four "very valuable" full-time employees including Janet Atkinson, Cathy Haddix, Denise Kramer and Donna Rozich. Others who work for the center as teachers include professional quilter Fran Kordek, and Kathryn Prentice who teaches children's classes and a variety of machine and embroidery classes and clubs.

"Working here is like having Christmas every day," Haddix said. "We order fabrics and notions and supplies and equipment about every day. When the shipments come in, we know what's in them but we can't wait to open the boxes. It's just a great place to work."

Joanne Pastine worked for Pifer for more than 10 years. "There was never a day that I dreaded going to work," she said. "One of our greatest benefits was the flexibility of our hours at the store. Sue is so understanding about our need to take care of family matters, especially those who had children. When we needed time off for personal reasons, Sue never hesitated to give us that time so long as she had the necessary coverage in the store."

In 2000, Pastine's husband retired and so did she.

"I really hated to leave the best job I ever had," she said, "but Jerry and I love to travel so when he retired I did, too."

Without exception, those who work at Elkins Sewing Center voiced the same gratitude toward their employer regarding the flexibility granted them with their working schedules. Each expressed the enjoyment of the training they receive that prepares them to explain and demonstrate the changing technology in the sewing machine industry.

"When computerization of the sewing machine first began to evolve, they were very primitive compared to today's technology," Pifer said. "The first machines had balky cassettes for programmable alphabets and stitches and were very rudimentary. Today the machines can be updated directly from the Internet and there is software available that enables sewers to create their own embroidery designs. Those not involved in sewing do not realize that the same technology used in medical equipment, automobiles and communications is the same used in our sewing machines.

"Although the primary customer base of the Elkins Center is Randolph County and the several surrounding counties, we have customers from throughout the state and many other areas. We have groups visit from out of state for a weekend sewing get-a-way. We have many customers and visitors who ride the train that make it a point to come early so as to have time before the train ride as well as those that come in after the train returns."

Another of the things that Pifer takes pride in is the several special events that she sponsors throughout the year including the annual Mountain Quest Quilt Shop Hop, a scavenger-type hunt for quilters that draws 300 or more visitors each June. "The come from all over West Virginia and throughout the United States," Pifer said.

"One of the things that is so very important and means so much to me is the people who come in and tell me and my staff that the Elkins Sewing Center has made a difference in their lives," Pifer said. "Sewing is related to important times in these people's lives. They take special pride in making gowns for weddings, christening, proms and other important events in their life ... We feel honored to have been allowed to share in these special times. I feel that our business is meeting community needs or it wouldn't still be here. We have no plans to change."

Pifer, her staff and company are either members of or continuously support the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Elkins Promotional Committee, ON TRAC, the Log Cabin Quilter's Guild, the American Association of University Women, the Woman's Club of Elkins, the Emma Scott Garden Clubs, county 4-H clubs, the Girl Scouts and the Mountain State Forest Festival.



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