Spokane Journal of Business

Shop offers stitch in time

Boyd-Walker Sewing Machine Co.

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For three generations, Darrell Smiths family has sold sewing machines from a shop at the corner of Sprague Avenue and Napa Street in East Spokane.

In the decades since Smiths grandfather, William Boyd, and Boyds partner, Jay Walker, founded Boyd-Walker Sewing Machine Co. in 1945, sewing machines have advanced from simple straight-stitch contraptions to electronically controlled wonders capable of fancywork grandma couldnt have imagined. Meanwhile, as the East Sprague neighborhood where the shop is located has cycled through thriving ups and gritty downs, Boyd-Walker has endured, providing sewers with machines, needles, thread, and lessons.

People still sew, Smith says.

In the past, he says, more people sewed out of necessitysimply to clothe the family than do today. Now most who sew do so for enjoyment. Todays hobbyist often is interested in quilting, unique embellishments, and craft projects, so new sewing machines offer a host of features, including hundreds of computer-controlled stitches, programs that tell the user what needles and machine settings to use, and memory cards that contain designs for embroidery.

Neat, white sewing machines covered with buttons, switches, and tiny display screens fill Boyd-Walkers main showroom and line its storefront windows. The shop has sold Pfaff sewing machines for more than 50 years, and also sells machines made by Riccar, Smith says.

In a smaller room to the side of the main showroom, used sewing machines refurbished by the Boyd-Walker repair staff in a busy backroom are lined up for sale. Larger commercial machines also are displayed there.

In the back of the showroom area, bright quilts drape the walls, and a row of long tables and a tall cutting table furnish a classroom. All who purchase a new sewing machine at Boyd-Walker receive five years of free classes.

Two instructors, Pat Lewis and Kathy Smith (no relation to Darrell Smith), teach organized classes at the shop and provide individualized instruction upon request. Every four months, Boyd-Walker mails a schedule of upcoming courses, which are more or less constant, to its customers. A recent session that covered a variety of topics over four days brought in more than 100 people, Darrell Smith says, although the classes typically average between two and 12 students.

Classes range from two-hour sessions on a useful feature of a machine to weekly meetings, in which students learn, over a series of lessons, to do a complete project. Quick demonstrations cover how to use a machines built-in memory, more advanced computer programs, and specialized presser feet, which are attachments that hold fabric in place and help move it through the machine.

Classes cover using a sewing machine to do traditional handcrafts such as embroidery, tatting, candlewicking, and elaborate heirloom sewing, which features tucks, ruffles, and shaped lace that hearkens back to Victorian days. Classes also teach students to create flannel lap-quilts, polar fleece stadium blankets, and other items.

Should a customer hit a snag in a project, she or he can call ahead and come in for private help at any time when organized classes arent scheduled, Smith says. Instructors and the repair staff at Boyd-Walker all can help a new sewing-machine owner learn the basics of operating a machinein effect, providing a stitch in time to save nine stitches of trouble, he says.

Weve become a resource center, Smith says.

Boyd-Walker also is a repair center, servicing all makes and models of household and commercial sewing machines. Smith says the company handles most repairs at its East Sprague shop, but in the case of commercial machines, a Boyd-Walker repairman will travel to a customers business.

Boyd-Walker employs nine people, including Smith. He started working in the shop about 20 years ago on a part-time basis to earn a little extra money, he says. His job at the family business soon became full time, and then I was trapped, he jokes.

Others at the shop have been in the business even longer. Harold Judd and Smiths father, Vincent, started working at the shop in the 1950s, about the time Walker left the business, Smith says. They bought out Boyd in the mid-1970s, and although they handed over ownership to the younger Smith in 1997, both still work at the shop.

Familiar faces and consistent location have been keys to Boyd-Walkers longevity. Customers tell Smith they remember waiting in the shop as children while their mothers bought machines and took sewing lessons. In some cases, grandmother, mother, and then daughter all have bought sewing machines from Boyd-Walker, and a few families have been customers for four generations, he says.

For the shop to have stayed at the same location for so many years has been especially important for out-of-town customers who visit Spokane infrequently, Smith says. Years ago, Boyd-Walker employed door-to-door salesmen who traveled the Inland Northwest offering sewing-machine sales and service, and customers, many who first learned of Boyd-Walker during that period, still come to the shop from as far away as Western Montana, British Columbia, and Oregon.

Smith says the location also has been good because theres parking nearby so its easy for customers to carry their machines in and out for service or classes, and the shop has good access to Interstate 90. Construction of the interstate, however, cut a swath through the residential neighborhood behind the shop and changed the character of the area, which eventually deteriorated.

Over the years, the East Sprague Business Owners Association has worked quietly with police and city officials to lower the crime rate in that area, and in the late 1980s helped establish a precursor version of a community policing substation just down the street from Boyd-Walker, Smith says. Now the association works with the COPS East substation at Fifth Avenue and Haven Street, he says. Smith is confident that the neighborhood is on the upswing and he expects to see fewer crime problems and more repairs to aging buildings in the future.

Boyd-Walker continues to thrive, Smith says. He declines to disclose annual revenue figures, but says they have increased in each of the last two years. Business is split equally between new-machine sales and repair work, he says. Boyd-Walker also sells a large selection of needles, bobbins, presser feet, and other sewing accessories. For example, the shop ships to customers nationwide a 100 percent cotton thread thats popular with quilters, he says.

Smith says he wants to reach out to make more people aware of Boyd-Walkers services. That effort might include offering more classes and increasing the number of people the business employs, he says.

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