HAMPSHIRE – A temporary white and purple banner currently covers the longstanding "Judy's Quilt 'N Sew" sign that has marked a locally-flavored destination business on south State Street in Hampshire since 1996.
The banner, with the words "Stitching on State" prominently displayed, is only a placeholder, until Mike and Elaine Thomas finally receive their own sign and can formally complete a transition three years in the making.
Fueled by a passion for sewing, the couple bought Judy's Quilt 'N Sew, 290 S. State St., from the business' original owners, Jim and Judy Magura, in 2010. The couple has spent the last three years updating merchandise and changing the look and feel of the store.
Now, the owners are taking ownership of their business, after formally unveiling the newly branded Stitching on State to more than 100 customers in a grand reopening on Feb. 2
"We wanted to really brand it as our store," Mike Thomas said. "It's letting people know that we are the owners and that we are here to stay. This is our business now."
For the last 16 years, avid quilters and sewers from the region have turned to the Hampshire store for high-quality products, even after ownership changed hands.
Although now with a new name, the business still will deliver the same expertise customers have come to expect, Mike Thomas said.
Stitching on State still offers the high-quality Pfaff and Bernina brand sewing machines.
Customers can still visit the shop for exceptional fabrics that aren't typically available at bargain brand stores like JoAnn's Fabrics or Wal-Mart. They can still peruse the old, 1906 Dutch Colonial home for notions, supplies, sewing needles and books, Mike Thomas said.
But the name change is also an attempt to broaden the local shop's appeal. Mike and Elaine Thomas weighed various names, before settling on the alliterative Stitching on State.
They thought it reflected their desire not to be known just for quilting.
In the coming months, the owners will try to diversify their merchandise, so that younger, time-strapped sewers can turn to the store to complete smaller home decor projects, like knitting handbags or table runners.
The two have already added a merchandiser to the payroll, so that customers won't see "the same old merchandise in the same old place," Mike Thomas said.
"We don't want to be known as one type of store," he said. "We want to try and offer a variety, so that we appeal to a wider audience."
Originally from Arlington Heights, Mark and Elaine Thomas moved to Hampshire nine years ago to fulfill their dream of living on the countryside.
Elaine Thomas had been quilting her entire adult life and immediately fell in love with Judy's Quilt 'N Sew after completing the move to rural Hampshire.
"She was totally amazed there was a quilting store here," Mike Thomas said. "She was a customer, before she became an owner."
Entering retirement age, the two were looking to operate a local shop to occupy their interests. Mike Thomas retired from his career as a pharmacist to oversee the day-to-day activities and do in-store service repairs on customers' sewing machines.
Elaine Thomas still works as home health care director at Sherman Hospital in Elgin, but routinely makes final business decisions on marketing and merchandise.
Together, the two have kept a thriving destination store in business through personal customer service and high-quality products. The two plan to keep succeeding with the business, albeit under a different name.
"We have to make it worthwhile for someone to travel a distance to come to see us," Mike Thomas said. "When they come here, we want to make sure they get good customer service, they get the help that they need and, hopefully, find the product that they are looking for."
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Stitching on State:
What: Featuring exceptional fabrics, notions, supplies, as well as Bernina and Pfaff sewing machines. Shop also offers dozens of classes, clubs, workshops and events each month. Where: 290 S. State St., Hampshire Information: Call 847-683-4739, or visit www.stitchingonstate.com