POCATELLO — On the outside, Sew In Stitches looks like any other business in a strip mall along Pocatello’s Yellowstone Avenue. Inside is a completely different story.
There are splashes of color everywhere. The decor is bright and light with delicately handcrafted quilts hanging along the walls. Oh and, fitting with the name of the shop, there’s laughter — lots of it. It seems like everyone in the shop is both in stitches and making stitches.
The woman behind Sew In Stitches is Becky Malarski, who says the business “just fell in my lap one day.”
Malarski grew up a military brat — her dad was in the Navy — but her family eventually settled down in Pocatello. She, however, wasn’t ready to stay in one place.
“I’m a gypsy at heart. I had to get out,” she said. “So I joined the Army and left.”
She ended up in San Antonio, Texas, and was a teacher there for several years. She eventually left that career behind — “I never wanted to get to the point where the kids frustrated me to the point where I didn’t like them,” she said — and bounced around doing a few different jobs.
When her father died, Malarski moved herself and her children back to Pocatello to help her mom and sister with a sewing business that was inside another business. When things weren’t working out, they left.
But when they left that business, several of the women who used that shop said they needed a place to sew. So Malarski and her family opened Sew In Stitches, which has been in business since Dec. 6 at 777 Yellowstone Ave., Suite B.
“It’s been one of those things where it seemed like every possible door opened on our way to do this,” Malarski said. “So we went with it and this is where we’re at.”
At first, they struggled to find the right location — the buildings they were looking at would already be rented out or the landlord wouldn’t allow them or renovate the building or would try to lock them into a long lease. But then the perfect opportunity came along.
“(We found) a landlord that was generous and gave us time to do the buildout without charging us rent,” Malarski said. “Because we were scared, he didn’t force us to sign a really long lease, which in commercial real estate, that’s unheard of.”
In addition to selling embroidery notions, fabric and other sewing supplies and providing things like quilt patterns, the shop specializes in quilting and embroidery classes, which are very popular. Every nine-week beginning quilting class the shop has hosted since opening has sold out several months in advance. There are also knitting and crocheting classes. Most of the weekdays in a given month have at least one class or event happening.
“Being a recovering schoolteacher, I am all about education,” Malarski said. “My philosophy is if you buy a tool from us and it sits on the shelf, then we haven’t done our job. We want to make sure that when you purchase something from us that we support it.”
Gary’s Sewing Center also donated several sewing machines to use in the classroom so that people who are curious about sewing but don’t want to make a big financial commitment can try it out first before purchasing a machine of their own.
Running a quilt shop is a bit more complicated than other retail stores, Malarski says.
“In order to sell a product, it takes a lot of work,” she said. “When you see fabric, you make samples to sell the product. It’s not like, ‘Hey, I got some new clothes in. Let me dress a mannequin and it’ll sell stuff.’ No, it takes time to sell the product in a fabric store.”
Malarski also emphasized that the women who use Sew In Stitches have helped make the business possible.
“We’ve had great community support,” she said. “We have a wonderful group of women who sew here regularly and take classes.”
Taking care of people is in her blood, Malarski said.
“The women are great. That’s the best part is the women that we get to serve,” she said. “I guess this is one of those things where we were raised to take care of people and this is just our medium.”
Most of Sew In Stitches’ clientele are women who are middle-aged or older, but Malarski said she sees some younger women and girls in the shop as well.
“In our beginning quilting class, we had a grandma and granddaughter team, so we have a 14-year-old girl who is extremely talented,” she said. “We have a 21-year-old girl. We have a MOD Squad, a modern quilt group that meets here once a month to sew, which has younger women in it as well, so 20s and 30s. We’ve started branching out to the younger demographic as well, bringing in more fabric that would be suited for the younger demographic with a combination of more traditional fabric as well to reach everyone.”
Though Malarski is the sole owner of the business, her mom, Garnette Hanson, and sister, Tracey Stinger, are essential to the running of Sew In Stitches. Both teach classes in the shop in addition to other work to keep things up and running.
“My mother makes samples,” Malarski said. “I have ladies that will stitch things out for us for embroidery. I have my aunt come and do our Facebook Lives and help us with that. My mother helps my sister, who’s been teaching for free. I mean, it is not just me. It’s everyone. It’s been amazing.”
Of her mom, who is 74, Malarski said, “She works hard. She does a lot. We couldn’t do this without her.”
As for her sister, she said, “When we work together, we are unstoppable. We are a great team.”
She added, “We are two crazy sisters. We don’t sleep much. We go full speed ahead. … But we love it.”
The sisters are popular with the women who patronize the business, too.
“Let me tell you something: These two girls are amazing,” said customer Karyn Bloxam. “These two sisters, oh my gosh, they have a way of inspiring everybody and bringing us all in here that we just always want to be here. It really is about inspiration because you get a little older and you don’t know what to do with your life and you walk in the store and these two girls wrap their arms around you and say, ‘Come here, let me show you how to do this.’ It is an awesome place to come. All women just love it.”
WORKING TOGETHER THROUGH COVID
For everyone everywhere, the COVID-19 pandemic hit like a ton of bricks.
Malarski was in the middle of a class when Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced the stay-home order in March, which shut down non-essential businesses.
“I just sat down at a table and cried because here I’d been open barely three months,” she said. “Everything, my retirement, everything I had went into opening this store, and I just sat there and I’m like ‘What am I going to do?’ I also wait tables at night to supplement my income because I wanted to reinvest. Most women who open a business like this, they usually have a husband that pays the bills at home, but nope. I didn’t think this through. So I was at Wingers and guess what? Wingers got shut down, too. So all of my sources of revenue were cut off, and I just sat there and cried.”
That’s when her customers stepped up to the plate.
“This is how amazing this group of sewing ladies is and this community,” Malarski said. “They started buying gift cards so that would give me the cash to get me through this. Some days I had women show up and leave me $100 bills — ‘This is for you, Becky.’ They’d send things to my Paypal account. I mean, they were so amazing and so helpful and anything they could do to support, they did. I couldn’t have done it without the community of supporters.”
In addition to financial help from her clientele, Malarski also started doing other things to help keep her business afloat: in-town delivery, curbside pick-up and shipping all over the country. Sew In Stitches also started using Facebook Live and Zoom for its classes. Women from all over the country have been attending those virtual classes.
Sew In Stitches has also had an online store since it opened, which helped with sales during the stay-home order, too.
“I guess it could have been worse. COVID could have been worse,” Malarski said. “But we were proactive from the get-go. I think that that’s what made the difference.”
Now that they’re open again, there is a lot more cleaning happening, and there is hand sanitizer on all the tables in the classroom.
Sew In Stitches also has a weekly gathering called Stitching in the Studio in which people can work on whatever project they want and just be together — an activity that Malarski says is especially important in a time when people feel more isolated than ever.
“It’s about just being together with other people,” she said. “Right now, where people feel so isolated and mental health is decreasing, I encourage people, even on our Facebook Lives, I’m like, ‘Hey, reach out to your friends. Check on them. People are not OK.’ That is a huge problem right now with COVID. There’s a lot of people that the light has been scared out of them. That’s one of the things that I worry about. We’ve had a lot of newly widowed women come in, too. In the past year, four or five women that we sew with who have lost their husbands, so they’re dealing with a lot of firsts and COVID. So I worry about those ladies especially.”
‘A RISING TIDE’
One thing that is important to Malarski is supporting the other local sewing shops. She says they all work together to help each other out.
Malarski chats with other shop owners to talk about what fabric they’re ordering so they aren’t stocking the same items, which helps out the businesses but also gives local sewers more variety. If Sew In Stitches doesn’t have the fabric a customer wants, she’ll happily send them to one of the other shops in town.
“There’s no reason to trip over each other trying to get things done,” she said. “It’s better for our customers with more variety. And especially with a small economy like ours, we want to keep people offline. A lot of people when they buy fabric, they need to touch it and it doesn’t look the same online. We want to try to give people as many choices as possible.”
Malarski is also part of a local group for quilt shop owners and a motto of the group is “A rising tide helps everyone.”
“It’s about supporting the community,” she said.
‘WE CELEBRATE EVERYONE’
For Malarski, empowering women is a huge part of her business model.
“I’ve been a single mom. I’ve gone through divorce. I’ve had things in my life that weren’t positive,” she said. “But how do you take negative things and make them positive to make you feel good about who you are? I’ve always tried to raise my daughters like, ‘You wear clothes for yourself, not for a guy, whatever makes you feel beautiful.’ I even taught some of my ladies this, but my life motto is ‘I’m beautiful, I’m sexy, and I meant to do it. Own it.’ … (One of my ladies) yesterday she was in a class, and she’s like, ‘So I made a mistake. I’m beautiful, I’m sexy, and I meant to do it.’ It’s so good to hear that.”
One of the practices Malarski uses to empower women is show and tell.
“We’re doing an embroidery club right now and one of the biggest things we do is we do show and tell,” she said. “‘What are you working on? What are you finishing?’ And we have a new lady that came and she was like, ‘Well I have this but it’s not embroidery,’ and it’s like, ‘I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. A finished product is a finished project.’ We celebrate anyone, everyone. We’re all in different stages. I try to see people as, everyone’s just doing the best they can and sometimes they need that extra boost. It’s about helping and encouraging no matter where they’re at in their journey.”
Sew In Stitches also has a monthly get together called a strip club — and, yes, Malarski laughed as she explained the concept.
“A strip club is sewing with strips,” she said. “There’s 2-and-a-half-inch strips that come pre-cut and they will be part of a whole line. We do that once a month. That’s the first Friday and the ladies pay in singles.”
Malarski tries to make sure her shop is a place where people want to be.
Part of that is having a bright and inviting space with lots of colors.
“I love colors. I taught science so rainbows, electromagnetic spectrum, that’s totally my thing,” she said. “I know it’s crazy, but I think it just energizes people.”
Another aspect is good music that everyone can enjoy.
“We play ’60s music because it spans generations,” she said. “Everybody can enjoy it. It’s uplifting. It’s upbeat. It’s happy. We sing along. We stop classes to sing ‘Sweet Caroline.’”
She certainly seems to be succeeding with making her business a welcoming space.
“It’s fun,” she said. “We have fun.”
The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. For more information and to view a schedule of classes, visit sewinstitchesshoppe.com.