Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics is the next stop on the Store Owner Series. Located in Berkeley, California, Stonemountain is a hub for garment makers, sewists and quilters alike. With a dedication to local designers and staying on trend, they feel like a home away from home for me. When I’m taking on a new project, like my Morgan Jeans, I know they will make sure I have everything I need to make my project successful. (And I just love my tissue paper covered packages!) When I was considering putting together this series, they were one of the first stores that came to mind. I can’t wait for you to learn more about them!
Why did you open your store?
Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics is a product of family, destiny, and good timing. I grew up in my dad’s first fabric store which began in 1967 in Los Angeles, CA. Bob Steinberg’s Fabric Emporium was the first of its kind, offering natural fibers like cotton from all over the world, rather than the ubiquitous polyester double knits of the time. These initial exposures left a lasting impression which came to life in 1980 when my dad visited me at UC Berkeley.
Bob moved from LA to Pacific Grove, CA and opened Stonemountain Fabrics in 1976 (Stonemountain is a translation of Steinberg). I was at Cal studying conservation of natural resources, and my dad came to visit me to see a Grateful Dead concert in Berkeley. This was 1980. While he was here, Bob fell in love with the location and a few months later, he moved his fabric store here. We opened in Berkeley because it was and continues to be a remarkable marketplace and crossroads for creative folks.
Stonemountain & Daughter opened in February 1981. We added the “daughter” to reflect my addition to the business. I didn’t always plan to continue the family tradition in the fabric business, but it really was in my blood. I’m 4th generation of my family in the fabric business in California. I used to say I was born with a pair of scissors in my hand! I fell in love with the sewing community, and I’ve never looked back.
What do you feel has been the key to your success in the industry?
We have long standing relationships with fabric wholesalers and jobbers all around the country. This has been a family-oriented industry where we are very involved and loved. We sometimes get fabric from the garment industry that others do not get.
We also have always had great relationships with our customers, and we’re so thankful. They are why we’re here! Having access to high quality and fairly priced fabrics is vital to a thriving and energized customer base. Folks come in from all over the world and love what they find. We truly are a “well” for creatives!
We are also lucky to have been able to grow within our current space with awesome landlords. We started with just 1000 sq. feet (what is now the Fashion Room) and expanded to the tire garage next door and then dental office upstairs over the first 11 years of our business. After three expansions, we’re now 6,000 sq. feet.
Our luck, persistence, and experience has paid off as most of the other independent fabric stores have all closed down. Our community still has an independent fabric store to go to, and we’re proud to be that store!
Tell me about the charity work your shop sponsors.
The hallmark of a mature business is taking the time to give back. We get lots of calls from various organizations to donate, but I was always looking for something that resonated on a deeper level. One day in 2001, I received an email from a mom who was working on a service project with her church, making blankets for the babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that her son had been in. It was a match made in heaven. We had the fabric and the community to help make it happen!
With the help of our network of generous volunteers, we currently donate hundreds of blankets and scent dolls to the NICU at Alta Bates Hospital each year through our Brightest Little Star Program. We supply all the materials: the pattern, thread, fusible web, and of course, the fabric. Our volunteers supply the machine, the time, and the love. We are so grateful for their help and always looking for more to join in!
We also support all the local guilds and schools with gift certificates for their fundraising efforts.
It seems like your employees all sew and are extremely talented. How do you find such fantastic help?
We always hire from our customer base. Loving the store and our mission is vital. Plus it helps when they already know their way around!
Secondly, having some sewing skills is a requirement to work here. Providing top notch customer service is a priority of ours, so we need our sales associates to have a certain level of knowledge and enthusiasm to be able to help our customers with their projects.
However, even if we hire someone who’s more of a beginner, they will inevitably gain so much experience just by working here. There are endless sources of knowledge! You learn from your coworkers, your customers, and from the stock itself. It’s a very collaborative place to work, so if you have a customer who needs help that you can’t provide, there will be a coworker around who will have the answers. All of us have some level of garment sewing experience, but we also have expert quilters, professional upholsterers, skilled embroiderers, and talented crafters abound!
What percentage of your customers are quilters versus sewers?
I’d say it’s pretty much 50/50, but these days, it’s not so much “either/or.” More and more garment sewers are trying their hand at quilting (especially modern quilting) and vice versa. The way I see it, the line between these two types of sewing is a lot more blurred than it used to be, especially from just a fabric perspective. Quilting with other substrates like silk, wool, and knits (think t-shirt quilts) is something we love to help customers with. And we are totally in favor of garment sewing with quilting cotton! Why limit yourself to just one camp when you can do both?
Name one thing you want customers to know about owning a fabric store.
It is a honor to serve our creative community and make a living at the same time. It truly is a dream job to get to work with amazing people on both sides of the counter. There’s a huge amount of work and investment involved, but it’s all worth it!
There are so many aspects to running a business, and I believe that running a fabric store is one of the more dynamic businesses to run. Or at least, we’ve made our business dynamic over the years. It’s one thing to offer a quality product, but throw in full-spectrum customer service, maintaining a fresh and inviting store, and engaging with the community…we have a lot going on, all of the time! I have made it my job to make sure that this is more than just a fabric store, this is a community resource center where sewists can come for supplies, but also support and friendship.
It’s also worth noting that I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry over the years. Being a woman in this industry has not always been easy. In 1981, when I officially got into this business, there were very few women. Pretty much everything was run by men. There’s no way I could have opened a store without my dad at that time. You had to be in the boy’s club to get the good deals. Luckily, my dad had the LA contacts, and through him, I gained the trust of these wholesalers. From that, I built up more buying opportunities in New York, and we still do business with some of these jobbers, getting beautiful designer goods from around the globe. The world has and is shifting now, and I’m proud to be a part of an industry that has lots of women-owned businesses!
How has your business model changed over time?
The fabric business is constantly evolving, but our flexibility and willingness to change has kept us going. We are guided by what excites our customers and our staff. We also really pay attention to what our community needs, and that’s ever changing too. For example, when there was a demand for sewing classes, we began teaching in 1997. But as more and more teachers and schools began popping back up in our area, we decided to close our school at the end of June 2016. Now we can refocus on maintaining a fantastic selection of fabric and a high level of service for our customers. Furthermore, we are helping these smaller schools in our area grow and expand their own businesses to strengthen the Bay Area sewing community as much as we can.
What can we expect from your store in the next year?
Along with my amazing sales staff, I have a strong team that works with me in the office. We are constantly dreaming up new ways to engage with the sewing community, whether it be through blogs, newsletters (sign up here), social media (follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinter
Here’s a taste of what we’re working on:
– Keeping up our selection of the best available fabric, patterns, notions in the world (as always!).
-Maintaining our high level customer service in a friendly and supportive environment.
-Reaching out to our local designers who shop here to support their creative endeavors.
-Continuing our Brightest Little Star program to make lots of blankets with our volunteer base for Alta Bates Hospital.
-Developing our fabric store network—we direct a group of independent stores in North America, called FineFabricStores.com.
-Creating inspiring displays and trunk shows around the store.
-Adding more and more products to our website.
-Building a larger national and even international base for folks to buy fabric from a trusted resource. More and more fabric stores are closing, leaving many people without access to quality fabric. Given all this, it is important for us to reach out beyond the Bay through the internet and mail orders.
On that note, to introduce you to the Stonemountain magic, we’d like to offer 15% off your entire online purchase! Just enter “STMDMAGIC” at checkout!
I love sharing the story of our local stores! It is inspiring to know how much a store like Stonemountain & Daughter contributes to both helping makers create their projects and giving back to the community around them. I can’t wait to explore their physical store front and see what happens next.