The House of Fabrics has survived 60 years in Columbia, two moves on Main Street, an ever-evolving landscape and the rise of online retail.
Now, Main Street’s trademark fabric store, one of the oldest stores on the street, is looking for a new home.
Just over a month ago, Lori Brown was forced to close the doors on the business her grandparents opened six decades ago. City officials deemed her building a safety hazard due to code violations she says she can’t afford to fix.
“My seamstresses are distraught,” Brown said. “They don’t know where they’re going to get fabric, short of ordering it online, because there isn’t much in town.”
The biggest safety issues in the building are dangerous holes in the flooring, among other code violations the city has found, said Michael O’Neill, a Columbia deputy housing official.
Brown has put the building up for sale and is in search of a new place to locate House of Fabrics and its neighboring business, Juanita’s Designs bridal shop, which rents the building’s upstairs space.
Brown said she’d love to stay downtown, but it has been a challenge to find an affordable space to rent.
“We’d love to still be in the city, but we just can’t find a space that’s big enough for both of us and something we can afford, because I’m not used to paying rent,” Brown said.
Her grandparents, Lou and Hazel Kaplan, opened House of Fabrics in the 1700 block of Main Street, where the county courthouse now stands, in 1957. When the store’s original building was torn down, it moved across the street. And when that building was later sold, Lou Kaplan bought the building at 1312 Main in 1982, and his business stayed put there.
On thing that has kept House of Fabrics in business all these years is the fact that big-box stores don’t offer what this store has, Brown said.
Fabric-draped mannequins gazing out of the store’s windows long have been a signature sight on Main Street. Inside was the place to find colorful reams of fine fabrics, buttons, beading, lace, feathers and more.
Performance arts groups such as the Columbia City Ballet and Southern Strutt dance company as well as local seamstresses searching for upscale materials have relied on the store’s stock for years.
“There’s a smell in the building of these rich fabrics that just feels comfortable and like family,” said William Starrett, director of the Columbia City Ballet. He remembers walking into House of Fabrics for the first time in 1977 to shop for material for costumes for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Some 95 percent of costumes for the company’s performances – and the majority of all major dance and theater performances across the city – have been sourced from House of Fabrics through the years, Starrett estimates.
“Their influence on the costumes and productions has just been huge, and that’s a legacy in itself,” he said.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.