Borsma’s Sewing Center in McMinnville, Oregon has been a family business for 80 years. Yup, you heard that right—80 years! It first opened on April 1, 1935 and for 40 years it was owned and operated by Dirk and Harriet Boersma. On April 1, 1975, at the ripe old age of 18, Jack Boersma bought the shop from his parents. “That means that April 1, 2015 was a pretty special day,” says Jack. “They’d owned the shop for 40 years and now I’ve owned the shop for 40 years.”
While 18 might seem young for shop ownership, Jack had already been part of the business for half a decade. “I was doing all the sewing machine repairs by the time I was 12 and in return my mom did all my homework,” he says (it wasn’t clear whether he was kidding about the homework). “They used to hide me in the back room so customers wouldn’t see a kid working on their Viking or Pfaff.”
While Dirk and Harriett mostly carried machines, it was Jack who added fabric. A year after he took over he put in fashion and home décor fabrics, along with a complete line of wedding textiles. As quilting became more popular, the fashion and wedding lines were phased out. Today, along with Janome sewing machines and Innova longarms (and vacuum cleaners), Boersma’s has notions and 10,000 bolts of fabric.
The shop is located in a building that dates from 1922 and formerly housed a Montgomery Ward store. Jack takes pride in using all 20,000 square feet of space on all four floors of the building. In addition to space for all that Boersma’s has to offer, the top floor has a 2,100-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment, where Jack and his wife Michelle lived for eight years. Today it houses out-of-state teachers who come to educate Boersma’s customers.
The atmosphere of the old building is enhanced by Jack’s collection of vintage and antique sewing machines. “You can’t beat the ambience they create,” says Jack, noting that they have a selection of Moda fabrics draped around an old Wilcox and Gibbs machine. The dozens of machines in the shop include an Elias Howe machine, just like one that’s in the collection of the Smithsonian, and an 1895 Ideal toy machine he wanted to buy from a former English teacher more than 30 years ago. She wouldn’t sell it to Jack, but when she passed away it was in her will that he could put it on display in the shop—but first he had to buy it. He did.
The shop’s eye candy extends to its fabric. Thanks to Boersma’s longtime association with Moda, Michelle calls Diane Toysen “the shop’s Moda rep, and also my friend.” Michelle notes that Boersma’s carries an eclectic mix of fabric styles and that precuts are popular with the many tourists who stop by while traveling through McMinnville. “Moda came in on the ground floor with precuts, and I think they do ‘em best,” she says. Michelle and her daughter also make the myriad samples that line the shop’s walls and hang from the ceiling. (Jack designed and fabricated a specially built system so that quilts can be easily hung up and taken down by just two people, without a ladder.)
Though he’s owned Boersma’s for four decades, Jack’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned. The shop was named a Quilt Sampler magazine Top Ten Quilt Shop in 2014 and the story of how they learned of their nomination provides insight into the way the shop runs. The magazine’s editor called in February to let Jack know they’d like to come at the end of April to shoot photos. “I told them I needed to think about it,” says Jack. That’s because Jack felt the shop needed a major facelift. “I had to decide whether I wanted to keep going or retire, because I don’t like to do anything halfway and the remodel would have to be great,” he says. The decision to go ahead meant that they replaced all the shop’s 32-year-old carpeting, designed and hung the aforementioned system that suspends quilts from the ceiling, and painted the whole place. “We were done by April 29, the day they came to take the pictures,” says Jack. That wholehearted approach is apparent throughout the shop. “I enjoy the stuff we build, our customers are cool, the store is completely done, and my sister has been with us for 13 years and we get along incredibly well,” he says. “It’s fun. I could have retired a long time ago, but I reall enjoy what I’m doing.”