Local merchant finds success is just sew

When she opened her fabric store, Seamingly Creative, at 1245 Main St. 15 years ago, Lerena Ruby raised some eyebrows.

“One customer told me, ‘When you opened I didn’t give you a chance in hell of succeeding,'” Ruby said.

Well, she has.

Seamingly Creative marked its 15th year on Jan. 27, and it’s been a well-crafted history.

Ruby has found niche markets to keep the store viable in the face of competition from the big chain stores.

Van-loads of quilting enthusiasts stop by to browse through her stock. Local sewers and quilters frequent the store, which packs a wide variety of fabrics and notions into the cramped, narrow building.

In back are sergers and sewing machines that Ruby uses for mending and alterations, which keep her busy when she doesn’t have shoppers in the store.

The store, Ruby said, was the result of a lifelong fascination with sewing and crafts, coupled with experience she got running a grocery store with her husband, Howard.

Ruby was born in 1946 in Brownsville to Ruth and Louis Pedersen and attended Holley School and Sweet Home High School before her family moved to Newport, where she graduated from high school.

Her first husband was in the military, she said, and she started taking college classes that were available to her.

“I took lots of classes €“ sewing, crafting, quilting,” she said.

In 1980 she married Howard Ruby and they ran a grocery store in Brownsville until they sold it in 1993.

“That’s when I decided to open a fabric store,” she said.

Ruby said she and her niece, Maureen Rose, who had recently quit her job as a manager at Key Bank, had been collecting fabric at flea markets, closeouts and bazaars for years €“ to the point that her house was overflowing.

She and her family did some research before they decided on the building her store occupies, the location of which, she said, has been key to her success.

“My father-in-law was in the grocery business and we looked at every building in town,” Ruby said. “We parked for a couple of hours and watched the foot traffic.”

Seamingly Creative opened Jan. 27, 1994.

“We opened from scratch,” she said, “but we made a profit the first year.”

The store’s popularity has grown, slowly but surely.

“Every year we’ve had an increase in dollar sales,” Ruby said.

She estimates that 85 percent of her fabric sales are to quilters.

“Quilters are addicts,” she said. “They have what are called shop hops, where they fill up a van and go down I-5 and stop at every shop on the way.”

She says that, in addition to local residents, she gets visitors from Salem and Eugene, plus “lots of tourists in the summer.”

One of her biggest weekends is during Sportsman’s Holiday, “but it’s not because of Sportsman’s Holiday €“ it’s the Sisters Quilt Show that weekend.”

Ruby said what sets her apart from the big chain stores is that she knows her customers and she knows her products.

“Joanne’s and Wal-Mart don’t wait on customers,” she said. “I know my customers and I know what they want. I have quicker turnover than the big stores because of that.

“We focus on service. I help people pick out colors and pick out fabrics. I show them how to put the pieces together.

“Sometimes they just come in to visit.”

She also has racks of clothing, mainly children’s dresses, that she’s sewn.

“We make things up that, if people don’t sew, they can buy as customers,” she said. “People who do sew can see it and get inspiration to make it themselves.”

She said the most challenging projects have been wedding dresses for family members.

Once, as a joke, she made a baby’s dress out of some camouflage fabric she had on hand.

“I hung it in the window and it wasn’t even an hour before someone bought it,” she said. “We sold dozens of those dresses. One day, a big truck with big tires rolled up and a big guy in red suspenders and a white t-shirt walked in. ‘I’ll take one of those $#@% camo dresses!’ he said. Only in Sweet Home.”

In addition to running the store, Ruby has served as a board member for the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce for four years and has been very active in trying to increase participation in the chamber. She also served two years on the Sweet Home Economic Development Group (SHEDG) board and still attends those meetings on behalf of the chamber.

She said the biggest challenge she sees for the local business community is getting people to shop in Sweet Home.

“You pretty much have to get them to come in one time so they can see how you offer great service and value,” she said.

In addition to her work, she said she enjoys spending time with her family, which includes her six grandchildren. Her son, Bob Church, is a registered nurse at Albany General Hospital. Her daughter, Carolyn Landel, who has a Ph.D in biomedical chemistry and lives in Seattle, writes science education programs with George “Pinky” Nelson, a retired astronaut. Landel and her family recently spent time in the Philippines while her husband was doing field research there. She also enjoys walking, and making ceramics with friends in her basement.

Ruby says her business provides social interaction, which she likes.

When her daughter-in-law was dying 10 years ago, some of her customers decided she needed some pick-me-up.

“They took me to lunch,” she said. “We’re still doing it. Four ladies get together every week and have lunch.

“This is definitely a lot more fun than the grocery business,” Ruby said. “The customers are happier when they come in here, and because we do mending and alterations, we get to meet a lot of people who don’t sew.”