Handmade: Lake Erie Mercantile continues to fill void
Connie Buick has been a sewing enthusiast ever since her mother, Ann Sisinyak, who's "an excellent seamstress," taught her how to sew when she was around 13 years old. That's why when the big box craft store in her hometown of Monroe closed its doors she knew she had to take matters into her own creative hands.
In the summer of 2011, she filled the void by opening Lake Erie Mercantile, 15555 S. Telegraph in Monroe, where she sells fabric, Elna sewing machines, yarn and crafting supplies. "I opened shortly after Joann Fabric (and Craft Store) closed," she said, because that left her and other crafting residents with "no fabric or yarn store in the area."
It's been a learning experience, but one that has definitely paid off in more ways than one.
"When I opened my shop, I didn't know how to quilt and I didn't have the correct fabric for quilting because the prints I had were big for things like curtains. I learned over the years that I had to have smaller prints for making quilts," she said. "The fabric was 100% cotton, but it was geared more toward home dec(orating). I had friends from church who helped me learn how to quilt and select the right fabrics. Quilting fabric has a higher thread count and it's a higher quality (cotton) fabric."
In terms of her knitting skills, she had never made anything other than dishcloths, but after taking classes with a teacher at her shop, that too has changed. "Now I can knit everything." Although her skills are far more advanced, she's hired someone to help with the knitting and crocheting side of the growing business.
"I have been here nine years, and the first three or four years it was difficult to keep up with knitted samples," she said. So, three or four years ago, she hired Laura Benes of Monroe to manage the yarn section and do all the samples. The yarn section is now growing, but looking back, she doesn't "recommend opening a business like this by yourself."
However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, she's been operating the business without the help of her one staff member and the "many volunteers who would come in and help with the quilt samples." And, before reopening after being closed two months, she conducted business curbside without any help, as well.
Lake Erie Mercantile is roughly 2,200 square feet with the yarn section taking up approximately 30% of the space. In addition to major brands that include Berroco, Plymouth and Cascade, Buick said, "We're getting into a lot of the local hand-dyed type yarn because we try to support local."
But, sewing enthusiasts are "by far" her biggest customer base, and she hasn't quite figured out why. "I get sewers from all over, but that's not so much the case among knitters," she said.
About 30% of her customers are both knitters and sewers. Some of the sewers make garments, as well as quilts because she also sells linen, wool, cotton canvas and cotton/spandex blends in prints and solids. Special orders are also available.
Bag making is a favorite class project among many of the sewers. A variety are made and designed to be used as totes, purses or project bags and they're often made from either canvas, waxed canvas or quilting cotton.
She's held one sewing class since the pandemic with social distancing and mask wearing guidelines in place. "We had seven in the class and it went very well," she said.
Just prior to the pandemic, Buick said business was "very good. We had just renovated the shop with new shelving and moved everything around, and then bam -- COVID!"
"It (business) has picked up, but not to the level it used to be, but we're getting there. I think people are still afraid of going out."
Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, email@example.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.
Contact Lake Erie Mercantile (15555 S. Telegraph, Monroe) at (734) 682-3945 or on Facebook. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.