Sunday, March 11, 2007

Cloth may not be sewn in Wal-Mart's future

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

Nobody objects to grandma's making a quilt for the new baby.
The ruckus is about where grandma's going to buy the fabric for the quilt.
On Tuesday, a sewing-loving grandma marched outside the Seguin Wal-Mart, protesting the national chain's decision to get rid of its fabric departments.
Doreen Taft was circulating a letter that said Wal-Mart's booting of the fabric department would devastate rural customers who sew. In that letter, she said with no Wal-Mart, she'd have to go to New Braunfels for fabric.
Joy Graham, a resident of rural Thorndale, said she very much agrees with Ms. Taft's stance.
'If we can't buy fabric at Wal-Mart, then residents in rural areas like Thorndale and Rockdale would have to drive 40 to 60 miles for cut fabrics,' Ms. Graham said. The lifelong recreational seamstress said they would have to drive to Round Rock, Bryan, College Station or Temple for 'cut fabrics.'
In February, Mrs. Graham started a petition that read, 'Keep fabric department in Rockdale, Wal-Mart, Texas.' Denice Doss, president of Rockdale Chamber of Commerce, said the Rockdale chamber helped to circulate the petition.
'I got 400 signatures on the petition and sent it to the corporate offices in Bentonville, Ark.,' Ms. Graham said. 'I also wrote a letter to explain why keeping the fabric department is important to us.'
In her letter, Ms. Graham said she quoted the customer service policy of Sam Walton, Wal-Mart's founder. Walton's Wal-Mart creed is to 'give customers what they want,' according to a biography.
A copy of Mrs. Graham's letter to corporate Wal-Mart ran in a February edition of the Rockdale Reporter, and the news of her petition aired last month on KRXT, Rockdale's radio station.
'For a couple of weeks, I didn't hear anything,' Ms. Graham said. 'But a while ago the store manager (at the Rockdale Wal-Mart) told me the fabric department was there for good. They even taped up a sign on the fabric table saying there'd be no change.'
Management at the Rockdale Wal-Mart would not comment for this story.
The protest and petition came after last fall's announcement that the Wal-Mart chain would phase out the fabric department in favor of a Crafts and Celebration Center. The news releases about the matter on the Wal-Mart Web site said 'the process would take between one and two years.'
Last week, Wal-Mart Spokesman Kerry Lundberg described the craft center as a place where people can go to find party ideas and supplies.
'We want to see if the new craft center is something the public likes,' Lundberg said. 'Wal-Mart needs to fit the community it's in. That's what it's all about.'
Lundberg didn't know if the fabric departments in the Temple and Belton Wal-Marts would close.
'I don't have a list that specifically identifies when or where the fabric departments will be phased out,' Lundberg said.
But Joe Stewart, store manager of the Temple Wal-Mart, said seamstresses in the Temple-Belton community have no reason to worry.
'We've had a combination of letters and calls that have been favorable to keeping the cut fabrics,' Stewart said. 'It's what our customers want. So we're going to keep it.'
Stewart also said he's 'fairly certain' the Belton Wal-Mart will keep its fabric department. Management at the Belton Wal-Mart would not comment.
This decision will please local shoppers like Michelle Best and Edie Rogers, who think the removal of the fabric department would be a 'stupid, pointless business move.'
The two women were looking at the several types of fabric in Temple Wal-Mart on Feb. 3.
Already perturbed with the January closure of the lay-away department at the Temple Wal-Mart, Ms. Best rolled her eyes when the subject of conversation came to fabric.
'The only other place to go is Hancock's, but there, it's just the high-end fabrics,' Ms. Best said. 'More expensive. I don't want to do that.'
Janet Hill of Temple, cited Hobby Lobby as another place to purchase fabric, but the family and consumer science teacher at Temple High School said the store doesn't carry a fabric variety comparable to Wal-Mart's.
'I also have to keep my eye on price,' Ms. Hill added. 'I can't send my students out to buy expensive fabrics.'
Employees at Wal-Mart's two local fabric competitors, Hancock Fabrics and Hobby Lobby, said they've heard their customers talk about their disappointment in corporate Wal-Mart's decision to shut down the fabric department.
'There's been a definite increase in business since all this talk started,' said Shirley Ross, employee at Hancock Fabrics in Temple.
An employee at Hobby Lobby who did not want to be named said she has not seen that much of a difference in fabric sales since. But she said the shoppers she's heard discuss the controversy weren't happy with it.
Some Wal-Marts in the Houston, Nacogdoches and El Paso areas have shut down their fabric departments. Consumers' responses are listed on Wal-Mart's Web site in the form of a blog. Some of the people who commented said they're upset, and others said 'it's not that big of a deal.'
The discussion attracted some out-of-state attention.
A shopper from Oklahoma asked whether Wal-Mart closed its fabric departments nationwide.
A Wal-Mart spokesman answered, 'Wal-Mart has not closed fabric departments throughout the nation. In fact, we will continue to carry fabric, as before, in most of our stores. The ones that will be affected are new or recently remodeled.'
'We're starting to see protests, petitions and letters from women who are angry about the no fabric at Wal-Mart bit,' said Becky Cooper, radio personality on Rockdale's KRXT. 'And they're just going to keep coming.'
She said Wal-Mart has the responsibility to maintain 'homey merchandise' after it 'shut down all the homey mom-and-pop stores.'
The state no longer requires women to study economics in high school. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has downgraded the sewing machine's classification from 'apparel and upkeep' to 'recreation.
But fabric is no frill.
For that grandma wanting to make a quilt for the new baby - fabric is as necessary as the modern world's computer.

Have your say
Public opinion about Wal-Mart policy and merchandising may be made by phone at 1-800-WAL-MART and e-mails submitted through the Web at walmartstores.com.
Letters can be mailed to Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Bentonville, AR 72716-8611.

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