VOL. 127 | NO. 92 | Thursday, May 10, 2012
New Business Pattern
By Sarah Baker
Entrepreneurs by nature are risk-takers, and two Midtown neighbors-turned-business partners are the latest evidence.
Susan Schwartz, left, and Mary Allison Cates prepare for a grand opening celebration for Sew Memphis, a new boutique at 688 S. Cox St. that sells cotton for quilts, children’s clothes, purses and aprons.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Susan Schwartz and Mary Allison Cates have watched their impromptu idea of owning a sewing boutique transform from a margarita-inspired dinner at Las Delicias to the culmination of Sew Memphis opening its doors in the Cooper-Young neighborhood at 688 S. Cox St. last week.
But the concept had many of the retail necessities already in place – including a location with minimal build-out costs and unmet demand in the area.
Schwartz, who recently retired from the federal government, owns the three-bedroom, two-bath house that’s zoned commercial just north of Central Avenue along with her son, Daurie. Unbeknownst to Cates, when Schwartz proposed opening a fabric store, her vision would soon become reality.
Cates, Presbyterian campus minister at the University of Memphis and parish associate at Shady Grove Presbyterian Church, wasn’t exactly looking to expand her job titles. Yet Schwartz’s sales pitch was too good to pass up.
“I was just so excited about this idea – I kept thinking about it and thinking about it,” Cates said. “I told myself if there are ever any deal breakers or if ever I become anxious about it, I’ll just stop following this little path. But nothing ever came up, so I just kept getting a little further and further into it.”
Cates and Schwartz would do things like “buy furniture for the fabric store that we might or might not open,” spending $30 here and there on craigslist. It wasn’t until photographers Laura Zumwalt and Lisa McAdoo decided to sublease the back part of the space – drastically reducing the duo’s rent – that it became a reality.
“When we agreed to do that, it was like, ‘OK, I think we’re really doing this,’” Cates said. “They’re super cool, really fun to hang out with, and now we have this creative community of four people.”
Sew Memphis sells material for quilts, children’s clothes, purses and aprons. The shop also offers weekly classes for quilters, from beginners to veterans.
Sew Memphis co-owner Mary Allison Cates, left, speaks with customer Maggie Jorgensen outside the boutique Cates opened with Susan Schwartz in Cooper-Young. In addition to selling quilting and sewing items, the store will offer sewing workshops.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
“There are some people who really want to learn that traditional, by-the-rules kind of sewing, and so we have some teachers that teach that,” Cates said. “Then there’s some people that just want to not think about it that much, just throw things together and see what happens – it’s called improvisational quilting – so we offer that too. Sometimes we tell people that you should learn the rules before you break them, but some people would rather start out breaking the rules. That’s cool with us too. That’s how we learned.”
Sew Memphis is a member of the Cooper-Young Business Association but is still determining what that means in terms of events like Thursday Night Out since the shop is slightly off the beaten path.
One effort to bring people in kicks off Wednesday, May 23, with Sew Happy – a happy hour sewing workshop. A sanctuary for sewers of all skill levels, if you will, the event is similar to what nearby yarn shop Stash hosts weekly in the Cooper-Young district.
“People can bring their own beverages and snacks or dinner or whatever they want,” Cates said. “It’s just a time for everybody to work on whatever they’re working on in the company of other people. And of course, wine makes everything better.”
As far as retail visibility, Cates said the industry is more of a destination shopping experience.
“It’s such a niche market, people who sew,” Cates said. “When I go to a city, I look up what the fabric stores are and go to them. We’ve already seen that in the last few days, people have come to us from all over Memphis and Olive Branch.”
Cates said the overarching goal it to build a feeling of community and inter-generational bonding.
“It’s kind of interesting how people that probably wouldn’t necessarily run into each other, they’re lives are overlapping in that space,” Cates said.
And Schwartz couldn’t agree more.
“We’re just kind of getting started and trying to figure out all of the processes that go along with owning a business,” Schwartz said. “We’re super excited and kind of feeling our way. Both of us are just that way personally.”