Ketchikan quilt shop owner celebrates 30th year

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KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) - The Silver Thimble Quilt Shop has been in business for 37 years, and Betty Gale has been the owner for 30.

When Gale purchased the shop in 1983, it was located on Mission Street and wasn’t quite the quilt-focused establishment it is today. Gale’s long-time employee, Jean Mackey, said the shop used to be focused on sewing clothes. Through the years, the pair shifted the shop’s focus to quilting, and they haven’t looked back.

Mackey said part of what has helped them stay in business through hard years after the Ketchikan Pulp Co. mill closure and competition with Wal-Mart’s former fabric department, was the shop’s move to Salmon Landing.

“Quilters will find a quilt shop no matter where it’s located,” Mackey said. “But being down here on the dock made it really convenient. It’s brought a lot of business.”

Gale credits her employee’s flexibility and understanding with making the hard years a bit easier.

“We had our struggles,” Gale said. “(Mackey) was always wonderful in creating samples and ideas and displays. She’s been so wonderful to me.”

These days the shop is gearing up for summer visitors. Gale has two shop spaces on the second floor of Salmon Landing. One is the main shop and the other is turned into an Alaska-themed space filled with fabric, patterns, kits and books.

Between six and 10 quilt-focused cruise groups pass through Ketchikan every summer, Gale said. Mackey said the groups are small, but at least two cruises will have 50 to 75 participants.

“This year, so far, we have four,” Gale said. “We don’t even know they are here until they show up at the shop.”

Gale said that during the early years of the Salmon Landing location, they set up tables to cut fabric outside the shop in order to accommodate the influx of people.

During the winter, the second retail space is converted into a classroom with long tables. Mackey said members of the Rainy Day Quilters Guild use the space almost daily.

“Quilt shops are a gathering place,” she said. “If I wanted to be involved in quilting every day of the week, I could come here and do that. There is always someone you know or you have quilting in common with here.”

Gale said the quilt shop is a place for people new to Ketchikan to meet and get to know other people.

“They come and start taking classes and join the guild, and soon they have a family here,” Gale said. “We make them welcome because I feel we have that gift, to be able to do that for them.”

Mackey has worked at the shop for 28 years, and said she couldn’t have asked for a better boss than Gale.

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