Leap of faith leads store owner to new spot after 61 years

Ginny Hildreth hasn’t been afraid to make a risky leap in her life when she feels the time is right.

The owner of Discount Vac, Sew & Fabric is in the middle of what she calls the third big leap in her life: moving the store’s location of 61 years to a new address.

The good news is the move is not that far.

Currently, Discount Vac, Sew & Fabric is at 119 First Ave., in Kennewick. The new location is at 22 W. Kennewick Ave., one block north and two blocks east into what at various times was Lantor’s Men’s and Ladies’ Wear, the Purple Parasol, and the Washington State Department of Revenue office.

The bad news? There is a lot of product to move. That’s what happens when you take ownership of a longtime business.

Throw in the addition of a fabric store she bought a few years back, located in its own building next door, and there’s a lot to move.

“We’re still shooting for moving in (to the new location) for mid-February,” Hildreth said. “Our lease in the current building runs out March 1. And the lease in the quilting store runs out April 1.”

Hildreth has a loyal customer base who have offered to help her move the product from the old store to the new.

For Hildreth, this business’ journey has been life changing.

Changing occupations

By Hildreth’s estimation, she’s the third owner of Discount Vac & Sew.

The original owners were Ron and Marcia Kruger, who opened the store in 1961.

“Then a woman named Bobby Jay purchased it from the Krugers around 1992,” she said.

Hildreth had been running a state-licensed day care in the Tri-Cities for 14 years. In 2012, she helped Jay by teaching long-armed quilting for the next three years.

After three years, Jay convinced Hildreth to shut her day care down. With increasing state regulations that caused her headaches, she did it – but not without some trepidation.

“That was the first biggest leap of my life,” Hildreth said.

The next leap came almost eight years ago.

Jay had decided to either sell the business to someone or shut it down. She convinced Hildreth to buy it.

“That was the second biggest leap of my life,” she said.

Together with her husband Stuart, she became the store’s owner seven and a half years ago.

“I found I was much happier here, after years of raising other people’s kids and day cares were being regulated out of business by the state,” she said.

More space

The old Discount Vac, Sew & Fabric store is packed with an incredible array of products, ranging from Riccar and SEBO vacuum cleaners, other brands of vacuum cleaner parts, to sewing machines (including high-end Baby Lock machines that can run $20,000) to fabrics, threads, and long-arm quilting machines.

Classes are held in the middle of the floor space, with customers and employees trying to squeeze by students. It’s all a mess, but Hildreth and her four employees make it work.

“We outgrew this place five years ago when we put the quilt shop in. Parking has not been fabulous,” she said. “We’ve been looking for (a new location for) three years.”

Her love of downtown Kennewick kept her looking close to home, when the new location had an opening.

“We’re getting 6,600 square feet of space,” Hildreth said. “It’s roughly the same as the old building, but it’s about 1,000 square feet more of display space. This old building is chopped up. There is more usable space at the new place.”

Hildreth says it’s a three-way split as to what sells best.

“It happens seasonally,” she said. “Sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, and quilting fabric. That’s why we want all three under one roof. We really do a lot of running back and forth between the stores. I lost two of my quilt shop employees this past year, so we’ve had to be closed two days of the week.”

Her energy ramps up when talking about her new plans.

“I’m most excited about having the quilt shop next door be under the same roof,” Hildreth said. “It’s a blank slate. I’ve got a picture in my head, and I get to do what I want.”

Walking through the new building, which was virtually empty, Hildreth points out where two different classes for sewing and embroidery will take place (on opposite ends of the room).

Wall space is expected to be adorned with beautiful quilts. A back room will have space for repairing sewing machines and vacuum cleaners.

The sales floor will be large, with sewing machines and vacuum cleaners intermingled together with quilting fabric.

Perhaps in a nod to the older husbands who drive their wives to class, who sit there waiting – sometimes impatiently – for class to end, Hildreth has an area just for them.

It will have a few sofas and chairs, a big screen TV and a refrigerator with non-alcoholic drinks.

Changing customer base

That older clientele is loyal, and Hildreth said, “We have a really strong repeat customer business.”

But it might surprise people to know that there are plenty of younger customers she sells to.

“There are people as young as teenagers who are sewing,” Hildreth said.

The reason is cosplay, or costume play. Young people like to dress up as characters from anime, video games, television and film.

“Cosplay is huge. So we actually cater to the younger clientele,” Hildreth said. “My daughter is into it and she got us into it.”

Over the past few years, Hildreth and her employees have attended a gaming convention or comic convention, making dice bags for their games, or doing on-the-spot repairs for their cosplay costumes.

“You go where the future is,” Hildreth said. “We really try to get out there for the younger community.”

Hildreth is hoping this move to a new location will improve business even more.

She’d like to see her staff back to nine employees, where it was before the pandemic happened and she was forced to close for six weeks. And like other businesses, it hurt Discount in other ways.

“We still have supply chain issues of certain parts that we can’t get,” she said. “And we lost a lot of business to the internet. Covid taught people how to shop online.”

But the pandemic taught her something too.

“Covid taught me that my husband and I have to take trips,” she said. “This summer, for the first time in seven years, my husband and I are going on a vacation. I have a fantastic staff. So for the first time in seven years, I can step away.”

It’s all made her appreciate everything: her staff, her business and her customers.

“If you asked me (what I love about this) early when I first owned the place, I have a creative personality. So I love the creativity, and I love creative people,” she said. “Now? At the end of the day, I love the people who come into the store. They love the color, the fabric.”

They are a different breed.

“Sewers don’t sew for themselves,” Hildreth said. “Most of the things we make, we give them away. Those things are our creation. We’re giving of ourselves. So we’re like-minded. People who sew and create tend to be generous and kind-hearted.

“You have to have a passion to do what you do.”

 Discount, Vac, Sew & Fabric: 22 W. Kennewick Ave., Kennewick; 509-586-1680; discountvacandsewwa.com.

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