Sheryl Miller of Rice Lake has been hemming seams up and down, taking stitches in and out, for nearly 20 years at The Tailor Shop in the Cedar Mall.
The skillful seamstress had a notion that this would be the pattern for her life, but darn it, health problems have gathered that have put her in a bind.
“I once thought I could keep this up for the rest of my life, but arthritis in my back and hands and deteriorating vision are making it very difficult to continue,” Miller said.
She added, “I really hate to quit ’cause tailoring has become both necessary and obsolete. People need to have clothes tailored to fit them ‘cause clothes are designed to fit a rare few, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in sewing among young people these days.”
That wasn’t the case when she started at the shop. Let’s back stitch a bit. In 2001, Miller wove her way into the shop when she started working for Bev Zieroth at what was then Bev’s Tailor Shop. The original shop owner was someone who went by the nickname Ziggy, and Zieroth started working for him when he opened the shop at the mall in 1987.
Miller relates, “Bev bought it from Ziggy soon after and ran the business for nearly 20 years. She fought against health problems to continue, but when her husband passed away suddenly in 2007, she offered to let me buy the business from her, so I did.”
Her daughter Katie joined her at the shop in 2005, the year she graduated from high school, and continued to work at the shop whenever she was home from college.
Miller may be biased, but said her daughter’s talents are multi-layered.
“Katie graduated from North Central University with a music major and a theology minor and came home to help me at The Tailor Shop but diversified her work experience by teaching voice and piano, working retail first at Hallmark and then at Office Max,” the mom said. “She volunteered at church, helping with the youth group and music ministries, got her license and became the youth pastor at the Rice Lake Assembly of God.”
Some may have thought the daughter would seamlessly take over the business from her mother, but those notches are not aligning. The fabric of her life includes plans to move out of the area after being yoked to a young pastor at a fall wedding.
So the shop tucked away down a hallway near the mall office, is for sale. Any interested in keeping the machines humming can call 715-234-3411 for details.
“It’s a niche; it’s a specialized business; it’s needed,” said mall manager Marie Nett. “I just hope someone takes advantage of that business. It’s well-established.”
Back at The Tailor Shop, the mother and daughter are reminiscing about the variety of items they and three other employees—Nancy Erwin, Diana Litwiller and Sue Bender— have tailored.
“Over the years, we’ve taken the squeakers out of dog toys, altered a bridesmaid dress on the day of the wedding, taken in and let out leather coats and vests and altered countless formal dresses for weddings, proms, fall formals, pageants,” Miller said.
She added, “We’ve had as many as four people working at the shop at once. We just had to take turns using some of the equipment or we would team up on multiple orders like hemming jeans when one person would cut them to length and another would hem.”
She has noticed that people get more attached to a beloved pair of jeans than an other clothing article. “Our team has mended legions of jeans,” she said.
“One customer had us mend his jeans so many times they were three layers thick in some places,” she said. “He was wearing them in Las Vegas and got offered $100 for them by someone in a band, but he didn’t sell them because they were his favorite.”
Their skills must have shined like satin or silk because business was steady year-round.
“It used to be we could count on a couple of dead times a year,” the tailor said. “We could clean and do inventory and stuff like that. Not any more. We go right from coats to formals and shortening pants. It’s a year-round thing, and repairs are endless.”
Like a hook and eye, the retiring tailor is hoping this story catches the attention of someone with nimble fingers. She’d like to knit together the tale of those tailors who have come before with her story and pass it on to her successor.