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Business

After 34 Years in Business, Grant House Sewing Machines Closing Up Shop

The economic downturn took a toll on the retail store, but the Santa Barbara city councilman plans to continue to handle machine repairs

A thread of the local sewing community unraveled when Grant House Sewing Machines, which has served Santa Barbara for more than 34 years, announced it would close.

“Sewers are a very close-knit community, and it is increasingly difficult for those small-business owners,” said Susan Fountain, who has worked with House for 10 years. “These kinds of businesses are getting fewer and farther between, especially in Southern California.”

Although the Santa Barbara city councilman will continue to handle machine repairs, a slow economy will force House to end his retail business at 128 E. Canon Perdido St. in July.

“The economic downturn has been so long. We’ve had other recessions and ups and downs, but this one is so incredibly long,” House said. “We’re thinking we might pull it out the last couple of months, but sales have been very low and we can’t sustain this level of losses. I’m ready to move on to something new.”

House broke into the business as a production sewer for a leather handbag company in the mid-1970s. He moved on to Deckers Outdoor Corporation as a production manager before starting his business from his garage and later expanding 512 E. Haley St.

“At that time there was one guy doing industrial repairs (in town),” House said. “Mr. Thompson closed right after I opened up ... but there was a strong local industry here.”

But the industry isn’t as strong as it once was, House said, especially because businesses aren’t selling high-end machines.

“It’s a very tough environment to be in business unless you are able to sustain the high-quality machines, and that’s where it became difficult to keep those sales up,” he said.

Baron’s Fabrics in Camarillo also will close in July, which means sewers will have to travel a long distance to find supplies, Fountain said.

“There’s this huge void left where people will have to literally travel an hour-plus to find anything,” she said. “It makes it more difficult when it’s not in the community. You can’t just pop in and say, ‘I’m having trouble with this fabric. What needles do I use?’ For an hour drive, you can’t make that happen.”

House and his employees have extensive training and background in anything from industrial to home machines. That knowledge and expertise are often scarce locally, said artist Janette James, who has been shopping at House’s store for 31 years.

“Grant is really good with industrial machines and knowing what works for certain applications, so he not only did the industrial side but the home side, too,” James said. “It’s a full-service sewing center.

“The other thing about Grant (Susan and Jane) is any machine you bought, you would learn something about it. Susan is an excellent teacher, and you would learn different capacities so there is always more you can do.”

But House said that more important than the expertise was the familial connection.

“We are very close to our customers. We got to know people through all the changes they went through,” he said. “We know people personally. Our customers are our friends who we helped grow their business and helped their families grow up.”

When longtime customer Dorothy Manzo walked into the store, Fountain knew exactly what she needed.

“It breaks my heart when a company closes like this,” Manzo said. “My heart goes out to him. ... We’re losing a part of Santa Barbara history.”

After looking at the numbers for the past couple of years, House didn’t have many options left.

“We were crunching the numbers, and he’s so loyal to his customers that he actually should’ve closed a year ago because he could already see it coming,” James said. “It’s really sad, but I knew at the same time that there were other things opening on his horizon.”

Art gallery and frame store Frameworks will move into the Canon Perdido location. Fountain said House hasn’t decided where he will continue machine repairs and possibly hold classes, but they will find a way to continue to take care of their customers.

“It has been a whole lifetime of real joy doing this work, and I’m just really thankful and grateful to all my staff and the people who patronized my business,” House said. “I’m really going to miss it.”

Karen Cooper, a longtime customer and former Coastal Quilters Guild of Santa Barbara president, said that with more people buying products online, businesses such as House’s suffer.

“This type of business is dying,” she said.

From the artistic quilts that hang from the store’s ceiling to the customers who walk through the doors every day, Santa Barbara will lose a piece of history when Grant House’s Sewing Machines closes its doors come July.

“Letting it go and thinking of all the memories and wonderful people and not seeing them frequently is the hardest part,” House said.

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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