Owner Karen Jolin, right, and manager Marlene Bottesi pose in front of one of the displays at Karen's Quilting Corner.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Karen Jolin is out to patch a hole in the quilting community.
Like many area quilters, the Williamstown native was saddened by the 2012 closing of a popular quilt shop in North Adams. The loss of the small business not only hurt its owner, a well-loved quilter in her own right, but it had ripple effects as quilting devotees found it more and more difficult to find supplies and support.
"The closest quilt shops to us are at least 45 minutes away or more," Jolin said this week. "To the east is A Notion to Quilt in Shelburne Falls. South is the Pumpkin Patch in Lee. North is the Water Wheel in Londonderry, Vt. And then in New York state, there are some in the Albany area.
"So people had to travel or shop online, which some people do. But people like to see and touch and get the feel of material. ... You kind of lose your inspiration and motivation when you don't have it staring in front of you."
North County quilters now have somewhere to turn.
Jolin opened Karen's Quilting Corner
on Cold Spring Road (Route 7) this summer without much fanfare, but quilters already are starting to make a bee line for the shop.
"I think the fall and winter are going to be much busier once we start classes, but all in all, I think the response has been good," said Jolin, who characterized the launch of her first retail shop as a "soft opening."
"I think that there's a lot of buzz about it with the local quilters. And I've been happy with what I hear about it. I think people like it. And I just want to make sure that people do like it and want to come back."
The shop occupies half of the Williamstown Marketplace, across from the '6 House restaurant. Jolin is renting about 1,000 square feet with the possibility to expand into the rest of the long-vacant commercial space down the road.
For now, her plan is to start small and build the business, which already offers a wide assortment of colorful fabrics in a warm, welcoming atmosphere. She is in the process of building up her inventory, which includes well-known lines like Moda Fabric, Northcutt, Timeless Treasures and Island Batiks.
Quality merchandise and a knowledgable sales staff give the specialty shop a leg up on chain retailers that may carry material but do not cater specifically to quilters, Jolin said.
Jolin, who works full-time at Williams College, is assisted by store manager Marlene Bottesi and several part-time employees — all quilters themselves who have assisted in getting the store up and running.
Bottesi jokingly describes quilting as "an addiction ... but a good one." Many area quilters missed getting their fix when the North Adams shop was forced to close more than a year ago, and some stopped engaging in the hobby altogether, Jolin said.
"I'm not the most experienced quilter," she said, noting that she got "hooked" on quilting in about 2001, after Tala's Quilt Shop opened in North Adams. "She was my inspiration.
"Because of this hole. I felt like I wanted to help others in the community. And I was in a position in my life where I could try to make it happen. Last fall, I talked to Tala and asked if she planned to reopen, and she said no."
So over the winter, she found the highly visible retail space she needed. This spring, she got the go ahead from the Planning Board to manufacture and sell goods on the site.
"We'll have classes, and we might make quilts here, but if we wanted to sell them, then we'd need special permission [under town zoning bylaws]," Jolin said. "I probably could have opened the shop without that, but I'm kind of a rules person.
"I wanted to open up earlier in the spring, but there's a lot of work to it."
Her husband lent a hand by building custom display racks on casters that can be rolled to one side of the store to create floor space for classes and demonstrations.
"There are a number of experienced quilters in the area that we can tap to teach classes," Jolin said.
"We want to showcase local talent. in addition to classes, we're going to have events like trunk shows, where people come and show their quilts and give advice."