Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review Susan Skalak, owner of Esther’s Fabrics.

DRAPED IN TRADITIONIconic island boutique boasts new management

Nearly 60 years of service and tradition will continue uninterrupted as the iconic island craft store Esther’s Fabrics re-opens with new products, new workshops and even a new owner — but the same friendly small town, main street vibe that has made it a Bainbridge institution.

Susan Skalak, an island transplant who moved here from Virginia two years ago (and a frequent customer), took over the shop recently upon learning that it was for sale.

Having started her career in the world of academia, Skalak said she rediscovered a love of sewing after taking time off to raise two kids. Then, when she and her family moved to Bainbridge, she also fell in love with Esther’s.

“I was sewing clothes for sale at the studio tour,” she said.

“When it came up [for sale] I just started asking people. I started asking a lot of women around the community, what they thought about it and what they liked about it and what they thought needed to change, what they thought needed to stay the same. I just went around the whole community asking questions.

“There’s a real dedication to the store,” she said, speaking from painful personal experience. Not every store, it would seem is so lucky.

“[It’s] great because the store that I used to go to in Charlottesville [Virginia] closed and I was crushed,” she said.

Esther’s is reportedly the oldest fabric store in the state, and one of the longest continuously operated businesses on Bainbridge Island. Skalak said she sees herself as carrying on a proud tradition in taking over the store and continuing its storied legacy of all-female owners.

“It’s been really fun,” she said. “There was a group of 20-somethings in here to buy things for costumes and so I started chatting with them.

“It came out that they had been running around here as little children and actually remembered Esther because their mother sewed and had brought them into the store.”

There has been lately a large resurgence of interest in sewing, Skalak said, primarily among women — but of widely varying ages.

“I think part of it is if you go into the stores the clothes aren’t very well-made,” she said. “The fabrics aren’t particularly nice and it’s almost gotten disposable.

“There are a lot of women coming back to it,” she added.

“They left it for many years and are now interested in coming back, and there are also younger women who come in here who want to learn more and are interested. People are coming back to it because they can have nice fabric and they can do what they want with it and have a unique look.”

Quilting, too, and other fabric-based craft work, draws many to the shop.

Cultivating a like-minded community and encouraging fledgling interests is Skalak’s primary goal at the store, an end to which she’s developing an impressive education program.

It will include offerings for adults and children, such as a hand sewing class for the littler kids, a machine-based class for middle schoolers and even a specialized design class for high schoolers.

She installed six sewing machines in the shop’s classroom space prior to the slated two-day grand reopening Saturday, Nov. 12 and Sunday, Nov. 13.

The experience of running a business, the new owner said, is not so very different as many people might think from her previous managerial responsibilities in the world of engineering. And Skalak said she is adjusting well to the demands of running a small business.

“In a way it’s very entrepreneurial in the science faculty,” she said.

“People think academics is kind of far from business, but when you’re in engineering and you run a lab and you have to pay your graduate students and you have to pay for your own equipment, and you write grants, then you have to budget.

“It’s also hands-on because you have to figure out how much money’s coming in, how much is going out. What you’re buying, doing all the purchase orders.

“In a way it’s not that much different — except that I didn’t have to deal with the taxes and the paperwork of going through the government,” she laughed.

The university took care of that part for her back then.

Esther’s is located at 181 Winslow Way East, Suite D.

Store hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through the end of the year.

Visit the website for post-holiday hours, class and workshop schedules and additional product information.

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