By Joseph Robertia
While there are many businesses on the central Kenai Peninsula that have come and gone, one small sewing shop has threaded its way to success over the years, and not dwindling industry, a sluggish economy or even a fire can snag it into closing.
“We’ve been in business since ’91. I started when my son was 1 year old. I needed a source of income, but wanted to be with my kids and do something I enjoyed,” said Shonda Powell, owner of Bare Threads and Laundromat at Mile 20 of the Kenai Spur Highway in Nikiski.
From a humble beginning teaching children to sew fleece in a small mall stall, Powell’s shop has grown and moved over the years, and with the addition of the Laundromat services, the business now encompasses 4,000 square feet and caters to the general public as well as servicing several of the largest employers in this area.
“I think the keys to my success are being careful, and doing a little bit of everything,” she said. “We do hemming, zippers and just helping people finish sewing projects they’ve started but can’t get done,” as well as seasonal stuff, like prom and wedding dresses and upholstery work in summer.
Being a Jill of all trades has allowed Powell to focus her efforts on whatever the demand was at the time.
“As one part of the business got slow, I would start on something
different,” she said.
But a fire last Christmas put the business she’s carefully stitched together in jeopardy.
“We had the clothes in one of the dryers catch fire. It burned up the machine and smoked up the rest of the shop,” Powell said, adding that it took months to clean and repair the store from this damage.
“We got it all cleaned up, the walls repainted and new carpet in,” Powell said. “The sewing shop re-opened in February and the Laundromat opened back up two weeks ago.”
Her machines are open for public use, but their larger use has been washing clothes for business in the area, most of which began after Powell got a foot in that door following the eruption of Mount Redoubt in 2009.
“They had been sending out their stuff to be washed in Anchorage, but they couldn’t fly anything out after the volcano ash grounded everything,” she said. “Washing Agrium’s coveralls is where it started, but I slowly started picking up other oil and gas businesses, and their service companies. I’ll wash their coveralls and do any embroidery work they need, and then send them back. I also get linens from some of their operations across the inlet when they’re open in summer.”
During the peak of Agrium’s business, Powell was washing as many as 300
coverall suits a day, but as the operation began its layoffs, her services for began to wane, too.
“As they cut back it went from 300 a day, down to about 150 suits every other day, to now it’s about two suits a week for them,” she said.
Two years ago is when things were at their toughest, she said, but as Powell has always done, she found a way to work harder to survive.
“I had a slow few years there. Business dropped off by about 25 percent,” she said. “But, I buckled down. I didn’t buy as much new stuff and I tried to do the work I had with less people. It’s tougher on you, but that’s how you get through it and survive.”