“People walk in, decompress, and then their heads go up and their mouths drop open.”
Customers also appreciate the good lighting and excellent customer service. “We’re super-friendly in our shop,” says Melody. She and her “super-knowledgeable” staff of ten make sure to engage customers, giving them time to wander but also making sure they’re finding what they need.
So says Melody Hicks, who with her husband Steve has owned the Bernina Sewing Centre in Lake Mary, Florida, for the past 21 years. “Our shop’s narrower at the front, so people are surprised when they walk in at how big we are—6,800 square feet—and at all the beautiful samples hanging from our tall ceilings.”
Those customers come from nearby Orlando and farther afield. The shop sits midway between Disney World and Daytona Beach, right off the interstate 4, so it’s a natural stop for travelers.
Melody defines her shop as “not a modern shop, but a more current quilt shop.” Moda fabrics are favorites and she says customers love lines from Basic Grey (including all the Grunge), Sandy Gervais, Sweetwater, and more. Moda reps Tom and Amy Matheny are two of Melody’s “favorite people in the world,” in part because they’re from Michigan—the same state that Steve is from— but also because they call frequently to make sure she knows the latest on fabric and Moda happenings.
Classes at Bernina Sewing Centre include those related to machines, but also Kid’s Kamps and Block of the Month gatherings. One of the biggest successes is the Stash Buster group, which meets monthly. Techniques and patterns for using up stash fabrics are gleaned from tools (including a Moda Cake Mix) and books, which have included Moda All-Star titles. “Some people bring their sewing machines and some people just bring their finished quilts for show-and-tell,” says Melody.
As the name suggests, the Bernina Sewing Centre carries Bernina machines of all types. Steve is a Bernina tech and Melody swears that people stop by just to see what he’s up to next. “He’s quite a character,” she says, and gives the example of the attire he planned for their week at Bernina University—last year it was shirts in neon pinks and greens and this year his clothing featured a paisley motif. “His shirts speak volumes,” she says.
In addition to Steve and the staff, customers come in in the hopes of being greeted by golden retrievers Sadie and Louis. The well-behaved pair are popular with visitors are disappointed if they’re not in the shop. “They’re well-behaved because they’re around people all day,” says Melody.
Even after 21 years in business, Melody feels lucky that she and Steve, both veterans of the US Navy, made the choice to open Bernina Sewing Centre.
“It’s the people I love—the customers, the fabric reps—really every aspect of the business,” says Melody. She knows that life can be challenging and is grateful when people stop by for a break from whatever’s bothering them. “When I hear people say they come in and leave their junk at the door, I think it’s the most important thing. We work hard to have this be a zone of fun and inspiration.”