By Beth Lederer
Fabrix is a hidden gem, a beloved Fabric store, located on bustling Clement Street in the Inner Richmond district of San Francisco. This treasured business is now up for sale.
There have been so many customers (old, young, Black, White, Asian, LatinX, Middle Easterner, Samoan, straight and same sex couples, transgender, families with children, artists, costume designers, fashion students, entrepreneurs, housewives, ballet dancers, quilters, interior decorators) who have all walked through the door into Fabrix over the last 28 years looking for some type of creative inspiration. They started their hours-long exploration browsing through the silks, wools, chiffons, tapestries, cottons, spandexes, faux furs, etc.
Some customers like to touch every fabric as they walk by. What are they touching? What are they feeling for? Is it the physical sensation of the fabric on their fingers? Does this fabric transform them to a different place or time? Are these customers pragmatic working on a specific project like window treatments, bedding, clothing, upholstery, Halloween, Burning Man or Bay to Breaker costumes, Ice-skating leotards or ball room dancing gowns, doll clothing, finding canvas for painting, buying fabric for the next big trend, dog clothing, creating a line of clothing and the list goes on?
Others have no idea what they want to make. They clearly are looking for something to spice up their life, they search, they listen to conversations, their hands move, touch, dig through hundreds of thousands of loose buttons in the buttton bin. Maybe they have purchased 10 cent buttons, 12 for a $1 or 144 buttons for $5. This was the first button deal which was around at least the first 10 years that I worked. It was the deal of the century, if you buy 60 loose buttons, you can get 84 buttons for free. Who can blame the customers for loving that deal? Some customers would search for hours digging through the button bin making friendships, Once we had one customer that went through the whole button bin maybe 100,000 buttons, he must have bought at least 1,000 buttons, and at the end of six hours in the store, he knew every button in the bin. That’s the kind of customer Fabrix had.
I used to work at Fabrix. Recently, I walked into the shop as a customer, incognito. I haven’t been back to Fabrix during retail hours since the store closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. The store was very fortunate to get the green light to reopen a few months later following severe COVID precautions. After 19 years, of faithfully and loyally committing myself to one job, I made the painful decision not to return to Fabrix due to helping my kids with distant learning. On this day, there was a new sales associate there and luckily for me she didn’t know or recognize me. The store was very quiet, just me and another customer. I thought to myself, ‘What would it feel like to be a customer at Fabrix? What do I do as a customer?’ I didn’t know exactly, so I followed what the other customer did and I proceeded to touch and feel a little portion of each fabric. I didn’t know why I was touching so much- maybe it was just an innate instinct. Though once I started I couldn’t stop touching. Do I let the sales people help me as I had always helped others with a very big smile and my very bubbly personality? I have really enjoyed over the last 19 years helping thousands of customers brainstorm on their myriad of projects. I must admit, our customers were so talented that I appreciated and learned so much from them as well. I owe our customers so much thanks, gratitude, praise and love for all the invaluable advice and knowledge they bestowed on me. This new sales girl was busy rolling up silk fabric which also made my job as a customer much easier. Sometimes having a little bit of quietness as your fingers touch the fabrics calms the soul.
So, I was a customer at Fabrix maybe for the first and possibly last time. I didn’t end up buying anything because, if you worked at Fabrix, you probably accumulated closets overflowing full of fabrics. These fabrics definitely filled a void and helped me stay busy with many sewing projects during the pandemic. While working at Fabrix there was always another close-out fabric deal, and there was always another fabric which caught your eye. The temptation to buy never stopped, always creating another new project in as little time as a blink of an eye.
This never-ending cycle lasted for 19 years for myself. Our loyal customers would return week after week, month after month and year after year. This was a cycle and it never ended for many. For some customers, it was so thrilling and for others they had to use every restraint in their body to walk out of the store empty handed. Even to my own surprise, my whole house is filled with beautiful practical items made from fabrics purchased at Fabrix while working there. This would include pillows and pillow cases, table cloths, fleece and wool blankets, cotton wash cloths, dish towels and bathing towels, my sons’ and daughter’s baby blankets, sheets and comforters, underwear and sports bras, exercise clothing for the gym, T-shirts and pants, grocery bags, dresses , skirts and shorts, bathing suits, lamp shades, scarves, shawls and my most relevant, practical and my proudest achievement – my tie-dye face mask which I kind of feel pretty cool wearing. Over the last 19 years, I really taught myself how to work with fabric and it came in handy for decorations for my wedding, my maternity clothing and then my sons Bar Mitzvah.
Fabrix was so much more than selling fabric, it was how this fabric culturally interweaved in generations of customers lives. We had a diverse array of cultures, colors and people – just like San Francisco and the Bay Area. Just like our many different fabrics of different textures, this is what the store attracted in customers.
The best part of my job was my connection with the customers. In the first years of my job until the store relocated in 2015, the store had wall-to-wall customers for a lot of the day. Some of my best memories are helping people from Tonga find fabrics to send home for a funeral, or the Pacific Island community had a summer camp each summer and at the end they had a huge performance where they needed to make costumes celebrating their rich heritage, a Middle Eastern family of Arabic decent came to buy tons of fabric for their strict dress codes and they needed a private room as it was getting dark so they could pray facing Mecca. A long-time customer and lawyer from New Zealand only purchased our more expensive wools to make wool blankets for her furnished homes that she rented out. For years, she would praise the use of wool blankets so finally I tried making a wool blanket. After that I was hooked and then I made many. I never went back to using fleece and I loved that it kept you so warm on the cold San Francisco evenings. Another highlight was meeting Gov. Gavin Newsom as he was campaigning for mayor of San Francisco in 2003. He complimented something I said while asking me for his vote. I was very proud of that encounter and he definitely got my vote. There are tons of stories that I connected with as I was helping customers look for fabric. I felt so good that I was able to help and as I was helping I was learning so much culturally. When you were at Fabrix, customers felt so comfortable, to share their projects, their cultures, their secrets – it was such an amazing time and this lasted for so many years.
A part of my heart is heavy knowing that Fabrix is now up for sale. The beautiful, thriving business as we once knew it, its future is yet to be determined, like any piece of raw fabric what will it turn into or turn out to be? We can only wait and see as our world and city changes.