Schools’ focus on the basics creates business opportunities |

Schools’ focus on the basics creates business opportunities

John Seelmeyer

Some of the students who show up at Sew Stitches Sewing Cafe in Sparks are fired up by television’s “Project Runway” and its tales of aspiring fashion designers with needles in hand.

Others want the pride of making something themselves. Others think probably mistakenly that they might be able to save on their clothing budget by sewing their own.

“For as many people as there are, there are reasons,” says Connie Webb, a seamstress who co-owns the store with Day Warren.

But a common element among many of the shop’s sewing students: They didn’t learn basic sewing skills in public schools as educators increasingly focus on the basics.

Schools’ focus on reading, math and other core subjects is creating opportunities for businesses to pick up the slack. For some companies, however, schools’ decisions to reduce class offerings create as many headaches as opportunities.

For Warren and Webb, the opportunities have been surprising.

Opening Sew Stitches Sewing Cafe in a shopping center at Sparks Bouelvard and Disc Drive a year ago, the shop’s co-owners hoped to do a good business with open sewing nights at which seamstresses would drop by and share some conversation while they worked on one of the store’s eight machines.

Those open sewing nights have yet to develop strongly, but Webb and Day are busy instead with classes that range from the basics of sewing for youngsters to the intricacies of machine embroidery for experienced seamstresses. (Men account for a small portion of the shop’s adult students.)

In fact, Warren says, classes today account for about half of the shop’s revenues, providing a strong second stream of income for the shop, whose owners also handle custom sewing jobs such as a one-of-a-kind wedding dresses.

Reduction of arts instruction in schools is at best a mixed blessing for Debbie Wolff, owner of Nevada Fine Arts in Reno.

Not many years ago, she says the back-to-school season at the store was busy as parents and students lined up to purchase sketchbooks, watercolors and other supplies for their art classes in public schools.

Those sales have dropped dramatically, Wolff says, and class offerings by Nevada Fine Arts and other businesses don’t begin to make up the difference.

“It’s very hard to get people to take art classes and pay for them,” she says. That’s especially true of college-aged consumers, she says, who want to earn credits for graduation whenever they take a course credits that can’t be offered if they are offered by a retailer.

Wolff worries that sales of art supplies will dip even further at the start of 2012, when Truckee Meadows Community College has said it will stop offering personal enrichment classes through its workforce development and community education division.

The school, citing budget pressures and a desire to focus on workforce development, says the classes may be picked up by another entity in a similar format.

Music teachers, meanwhile, hope to see more students as schools tighten their arts budgets.

“I hope that those who can afford private lessons and want their children to continue in music will turn to private teachers to help them on their path of music education,” says Marianne Maytan of Maytan Music in Reno.

For the past couple of years, she says, private music teachers have seen a declining number of students, probably because recession-pinched parents need to cut back expenses.

Jay Bushman, general manager of Nothing to It!, says the Reno cooking school has seen a steady flow of home-schooled students whose parents want them to develop cooking skills.

Another stream of young students, he says, is generated when teens become interested in culinary careers perhaps because of reality television offerings on the subject and decide to attend high-end culinary schools.

Parents who want to find out if the youngster’s interest is for real before they write a big check, Bushman says, send their kids to Nothing to It! for a tryout.


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