Betty Pilkington started selling fabric in Santa Maria in 1960.
But the owner of Betty’s Fabrics plans to close that location sometime in January.
“Everything changes,” she said. “I always thought I was in a depression-proof business, but that’s not true. It costs a lot of money to sew clothes these days.”
Pilkington, who turned 90 in early December, said her age and a declining clientele were the main reasons she decided to close the Santa Maria location on South Broadway and focus on her store in San Luis Obispo at 1229 Carmel St. At one time, Pilkington also had Betty’s Fabrics locations in Lompoc and Santa Barbara.
In recent years, sales had been declining, though Pilkington said she couldn’t give an accurate estimate of how much. She used to employ 28 full- and part-time workers between her Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo stores until she announced the closure to her staff a few months ago, she said. Now she has 18 employees.
She has three full-time employees at the Santa Maria store, and the number of part-time employees varies, but they have all found a place after the store closes, she said. Some have found other jobs, some have retired, and some may work at the San Luis Obispo location when she needs the help.
As long as I’m doing fine here, I’ll keep it open.
Betty Pilkington, owner of Betty’s Fabrics
Pilkington has no plans to close her San Luis Obispo store, she said. The store offers knitting and quilting classes and has just remodeled its yarn department.
“As long as I’m doing fine here, I’ll keep it open,” she said. “I’m not really planning to operate it differently. It’s very successful, we just don’t have the clientele.”
Pilkington moved to Santa Maria from Sacramento as a young bride in 1948.
“I kept saying for years, ‘What this town needs is a good fabric store,’ ” she said. “I was a home ec major, I love fabric, and I read everything. I knew everything about every piece of fabric that came out, so I went after those items out of New York, Pennsylvania, the South, and brought them into the Santa Maria area.”
She said people would come to her store from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, and her “theory was, if I could keep them in town, I had a business. And that’s what happened.”
Pilkington said she’s had a wonderful career.
“I’ve had a good run, great customers. I’ve enjoyed all of it. I love seeing all the new fabrics that come out and choosing them,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful business. I’ve enjoyed every minute.”
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