Sewing shop’s Lerena Ruby closing after 26 years, decade after originally planned

Lerena Ruby stands in her Seamingly Creative sewing goods store at 1245 Main St. as she has for 27 years.

“I don’t sit down very often,” she says.

But, she acknowledges, she may be more often, soon.

That’s because Ruby, 74, is calling it quits and closing the store, due to a combination of factors: COVID-influenced problems, her age, her desire to do other things than staff her store counter all week long.

“This last year, because of COVID, has been a struggle,” she said, standing in her main showroom, which is about 12 feet wide. “Obviously, we can’t work 6 feet apart, so it’s just been me, six days a week, because I couldn’t have other employees work.”

Plus, she said, it’s been difficult to get inventory from her suppliers in Eugene, Portland and Florida.

“It’s been difficult to get inventory. I’m ready to retire.”

She said, matter-of-factly, that she originally planned to retire 10 years ago.

“But I love it here. I love my customers. It’s pleasant work – it’s not like work.”

She and her husband Howard, now 80, started Seamingly Creative in 1994 “from scratch – an empty building,” she said.

They’d owned a grocery store in Brownsville previously and Ruby had taken in sewing on the side, partly because she enjoyed it.

“I was doing all this sewing and stuff at home and it got to be a little too much for home, so we opened here,” she said. They got some inventory from another store that was closing, but the rest they pulled together themselves. Her niece, particularly, had collected fabric at flea markets and from other sources, to the point that her house was overflowing.

When they decided to open a store, they drew on their retail experience as they surveyed “every building in town” before choosing the Main Street location which, she said, was key to their success.

Ruby told an interviewer in 2009, the store’s 15th anniversary, that people didn’t expect them to succeed, but they did, finding niche markets to keep Seamingly Creative viable in the face of competition from big chain stores.

The customers came, sometimes by the van-load, she said. Quilting enthusiasts, home seamstresses, and crafters.

“We get a lot of people from out of town, Albany, tourists in the summer, ” she said last week, noting that a lot of customers have relatives in the Sweet Home area and stop by when they’re in town.

Plus, she did a lot of unsung emergency repairs and public service jobs that few knew about, retired Sweet Home High School Athletic Director Larry Johnson said.

“I can’t tell you how many uniforms she’s fixed,” he said, noting that she also sewed letters on letterman’s jackets for students and made alterations and attached badges and patches to uniforms for local public safety personnel.

Those relationships with the community have made it harder to shut things down hard, Ruby said.

“Just all the friends I’ve made. I didn’t anticipate it would be – everybody comes in to say goodbye and they’re all bringing gifts and thank-you’s. Every day I cry. I didn’t expect that.”

The store’s last day will be Thursday, Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, Ruby said, she is working on the clearance process which, she acknowledged, will extend well past the actual closure.

Plus, she’s still working on the mending and alterations that have been a consistent part of the store’s service over the years. A military uniform hangs on a rack, waiting for addition of some stripes.

That will be one of her memories, she said.

“The small things people want me to do – it always amazes me people come in and want to have a button sewn on, or they have a 1-inch tear in a sleeve, those kinds of things.”

But the customers have made it fun, she said.

“It’s just been pleasant because 99 percent of customers are very kind, nice people. They appreciate me being here. We’ve become friends.”

A few policies have helped that process, like “I’ve always had the rule that business, politics and religion don’t mix. I’ve tried really hard. If they talk politics when they come in, I change the subject.”

That’s been particularly true in the last year, when some customers would become angry when asked to don a mask, she said.

The Rubys considered selling the business and there was interest, but the complications posed by COVID – namely, problems getting inventory, “made everything so complicated” that they decided just to close down, she said.

Now that she’s retiring, she plans to “rest up,” then get busy clearing out what’s left of her inventory and getting the store building shipshape. The counseling office next door is set to expand into her space, she said.

“At least we won’t have another empty building in Sweet Home. But I wish it was retail.”

They will visit family, she said, holding a photo of her great-grandchildren in Washington.

Over the years, Ruby has served in many ways, as Chamber of Commerce president, as a member of the SHEDG board, as a volunteer at fundraisers for Sunshine Industries. With Howard, she’s been active in veterans activities.

“You’ve got to appreciate your community,” she said. “I have to participate.”

In the past, “when I do those things, I take it seriously. Pretty soon it becomes a second job because you want to do it and do it right,” she said. “It kind of becomes stressful after so long.”

She definitely plans to stay active.

“I’m sort of a hyper-active person. I need to be busy all the time. My family is worried about me, sitting around. I don’t think there’s a chance of that. There’s lots of things to do. I will volunteer once I get everything caught up at home. I’m not worried about me not having anything to do.

“I’ll have time to cook dinner and do things.”