Wednesday, February 11, 2009
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Sewing Place owner celebrates 35 years of change

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[February 11, 2009]  A 35th anniversary... Is that silver? China? For Tami Bray, 35 years means clothing ... and lots of it. Tami has been self-employed as a seamstress for the past 35 years in one capacity or another. She began working in high school to make a little extra money.

Restaurant"My interest started with my grandmother," Tami says from her sewing station at the front window of the Woodlawn Road shop. "Grandma bought me my first sewing machine when I was entering high school. We couldn't have afforded one without her." Tami's grandmother sewed plenty but not as a business. "She had 15 kids," Tami explains. Grandma's old treadle Singer sewing machine sits in the waiting area of the shop as a tribute.

Tami began to study sewing in junior high and all through high school. "A lot of things were self-taught. You can't learn everything in a classroom," she says. When she was 20, she began advertising in the local paper. She has worked out of her home, worked at other people's homes and had various shops through the years. For a while, she had a shop by Boss Drug, across from the library.


She has been at the Woodlawn strip mall for 10 years but only a year and a half at her current location. "I keep record of new customers and have had 600 first-timers since moving to this location. Some are referred through word of mouth, but a lot just see the sign and the pink door," she says. And if Tami isn't equipped to do the job, she tries to offer referrals to someone who can help.

"I used to make wedding gowns or bridesmaid dresses, but they take so much time," she says. "I charge for my time, not by the project, so a dress may take $60 or $600 depending on how elaborate it is. Now I just do alterations." With prom around the corner and wedding season after that, it's a busy time of year. "I alter everything from wedding gowns to jeans," she says.

Tami credits her husband and daughter for helping make the business successful. "My husband, Gary, helped fix up the store with the mirrors and air conditioning and the dressing rooms. My daughter has practically grown up in the shop."

When asked about the current economy, Tami says she hasn't seen much difference in higher or lower numbers of people requesting services. "They still bring in new items to be altered or older clothes to be repaired." And there's not much competition right now. "There used to be two other shops in town, but I'm the only one left."

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While sewing is a lifelong passion for Tami, something else remains a bigger incentive. "I love to help people," she says. "I still make a few house calls to elderly women who have a hard time getting out. I love doing it."

Her drive to help others began another passion in 1999. Tami belonged to a church in Decatur that was increasing in numbers and planning a building project. "I went to the pastor and said, ‘If we start a ministry to provide free clothes to families, people will have more money to give to the church.' He thought it was a great idea." So, once a month, Tami would set up a station at the church where she displayed clothes that had been donated. Families could shop free of charge.

When her family moved to Lincoln, Tami brought her passion with her. The Kid's Closet opened several years ago with the same principles. Anyone can donate clothes, either by dropping them off on the first Saturday of the month or by dropping them at the Woodlawn shop any time. "There have been times I didn't have room for all the donated clothes," she says. "This is the first winter I've been open every month, and I think it's meeting a need. We could still use boys' clothes, though. That's always a need."

With the slumping economy, Tami feels the timing has been heaven-sent. "People need a little extra help. I never question anyone about their finances or income. They just come in and get what they need. I think God gave me this idea 'for such a time as this.' I understand how they feel. I've been there."


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