Sunday, October 22, 2006

I've Been to the Holy Land

Wonderful local quilt shops are scattered about the country, thank goodness. We all have a favorite, even if "local" represents a long trek for some of us. But there is one shop (if it can qualify for such a diminutive appellation) that seems to have global (okay, maybe just continental) caché: Hancock's of Paducah.

Hancock's Catalog

We all get its fabulous catalog and shop online. The depth of selection plants visions of Quilters' Mecca in our heads, and some of us wonder what it must be like to visit in person. For those who haven't had the pleasure, let me tell you.

I envisioned an old warehouse building near the riverfront of Paducah—despite knowing it was located just off I-24. I saw high ceilings, old wooden floors and counters, and miles of bolts arranged by color like any other good fabric store. It may be relevant to note here that in another life I opened and managed the Nashville Calico Corners drapery and upholstery fabric store. I probably pay more attention to merchandising, customer relations and service, inventory, etc. than the average quiltmaker-customer. So it was with some surprise that I absorbed the distinct character of HOP.

Two large pre-fab, bare-bones buildings, tacked onto over time, are neither appealing nor welcoming, but neat. The parking lot is large and full of broken pavement (we noticed a lot of that in Paducah). Coming in the door I was greeted by ranks of red plastic shopping carts near the 3 or 4 check-out lanes; I was in a fabric supermarket.

Interior ceilings are low (high ceilings would be wasted in a fabric shop) and white, with exposed ductwork and pipes making them seem lower. Concrete floors (poor staff) and a little natural light, but lots of overhead lighting. The quantity of bolts is staggering. In the Kona cottons and other areas, 3 or 4 bolts of a single colorway speak of the sales volume. Large cutting tables scattered throughout the store are manned by 2 or 3 women (or a few men) each. There's no Muzak, just a little conversation between employees; not much service offered, but they are helpful when asked.

There's no Husbands' Room where they can watch telly, read the paper, doze off, or have a cuppa, very surprising because HOP is clearly located to make it easy for traveling couples to hop off the Interstate and hop back on, in the course of a North/South road trip. I joked that it was bad business strategy not to keep husbands happy while wives shop (other husbands were sitting in cars outside, just like mine). One clerk said, "If you see Mr. Hancock, would you make that suggestion? 'Cause he won't yell at you!" Yell??

The casually-dressed, middle-aged-or-older clerks don't wear badges or aprons, so it took me a while to realize these women pushing carts around were not customers. I asked, "How many are there working here?" I was told many are part-time but there are about 50! One mentioned that except for quilt show time, they have little business during the week (that's a lot of down time, folks), so they were grateful for customers like me because they want to keep their jobs. Keep their jobs?

Since I pretty much had the joint to myself, I wondered how they did keep their jobs. Fabrics are arranged by vendor rather than color or type, which is easier for store employees to navigate, but bad merchandising for a flesh-and-blood shopper in a bricks-and-mortar store (imagine a grocery that stocks ketchup in 5 different areas of the store). I realized why I thought many of the clerks were customers: they were pushing shopping carts among the aisles, picking up and putting back bolts from which they were cutting internet orders.

There were no fat quarters offered and all cuts were a minimum of a half-yard. The remnant table looked like a pile of laundry to be folded—jumbled and random. I passed. I asked the clerk (the one afraid of being yelled at) whether charm packs were displayed anywhere. Furtively she took me to the warehouse in the connecting building. Here was the heartbeat of Hancock's of Paducah.

Here were the high ceilings. Neat and well-organized rows of high shelves held dozens of bolts of the same pattern. There were boxes of bundled fat quarters tied in ribbon, sent that way from the vendors. Boxes of bundled 5" charm squares were pointed out for me to poke through. "Mr. Hancock likes to sell these only over the internet," which is why they are not displayed in the retail store. I'd only wanted to look, but somehow I'd been made a conspirator against Mr. H. Now I was nervous about him.

There is an enormous pattern and ruler wall, and of course, every notion ever conceived, though the book selection seemed limited. The batiks selection was too overwhelming. I knew I could spend all day (and every dime) in that one area, so I sailed on by with few backward glances. (But, oh my.)

The home dec section was home ground to me—everything hung on metal pole racks, all grouped by color. Prices are better in Nashville (Nashville is an odd fabric market) on these items, but there is certainly breadth of choice.

Another surprise was that there is no garment fabric sold. No batiste or bouclé or tulle; no buttons or silk. Nothing out of the ordinary to lure the impulse shopper. But it is Quilters' Mecca for sure, with a little home dec thrown in for good measure.

My response to HOP was the same as I'd had to seeing Freddy Moran's quilts in person at the AQS Museum. There's nothing like seeing it in person, because the books just can't do it justice.


DubiQuilts said...

I feel like I have been to HOP. Thanks for the details of the store.

Barbara C said...

Thanks for the report. I can tell you that it's not at all like I imagined. It sounds like internet sales may be their real focus, but I'm glad they have a real store, even if a no-frills one.

Anonymous said...

It isn't what I imagined either, but still the Mecca of faithful quilters! Sounds as if it would be a good idea to know exactly what you want, or you could wander all day.

debraspincic said...

I am not a label/brand faithful shopper so having all the same brands in one place would be strange to me. But, I am sure I could adjust!

I mentioned the idea of a trip to Paducah last night to Wes and he said, "Anytime, just let him know when." He suggested flying--I thought a road trip in the Corvette would be fun--I'll have to think about the difference.

So, let me know.

Jane Ann said...

Oh, Jen, wandering all day is the point! Local quilt shop selection is limited to the owners' tastes, but this was like a wholesale buyers' market (at retail prices--there are no bargains), a place to see everything out there.

Debra, my fabric fund is whimpering, so I'll be taking a break from shopping until after the holidays. But I heartily recommend the trip--the museum AND Hancock's make for a fun combination for quiltmakers.

Anonymous said...

Jane Ann, seeing HoP through your eyes was almost as good as being there! I've always wondered what it is like. I could almost see and smell the rich details through your imagry, right down to the cracks in the pavement! Great post!

Kay said...

A great description! I was there during the AQS show, and believe me, there was no question of clerks keeping their job then! In fact, they had hired all sorts of temps to handle the rush. Besides the main part as you described, the back room was full of tables piled with one yard cuts selling for $5 (I think--memory is bad.) That was the real fun--people finding a piece, holding it up, and calling for help to find more. I succumbed and bought five pieces, none of which I really needed, of course. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip.

Scrapmaker said...

Perfect description of Hancock's. I've been during AQS, but of course it was overcrowded. I loved the museum and spent a lot of time there. It IS awesome to see the works "in person."
We are a little spoiled here. In the San Diego area there are more than twenty quilt shops, including a very large one, Rosie's Calico Cupboard. If you want to spend a couple of hours driving north, you can find endless fabric shopping in LA. Jen

Jules said...

We drive by there on our way to Chicago but never stop. Thank you for filling me in. Definitely a place to go without husband and 4 kids. Maybe a trip with my quilting buddy... We could stop in and see you on the way. Nashville should be on the way to Paducah for me, right?

Jane Ann said...

I'm beginning to have visions of a Spring Caravan steaming up I-24W! Yep, Nashville is a good mustering point for Paducah from all points south.

Shelina said...

Thanks for the description. I always felt like I was missing out going to HoP, and now I feel like I've been there.