CRESTVIEW — Margie Greene celebrated her 47th anniversary as a Crestview business owner in May. She opened Margie's Nylon and Lace Boutique in 1971 at 2014 Lacey Lane.
"In that era there was about 13 nylon and lace shops in Pensacola, one in Fort Walton," she said. "I was tired of driving up into Pensacola every time I needed something for my customers, because I had a custom dressmaking business out of my little trailer out of my house."
Greene spoke to her husband Richard about moving into a three-room building on their property.
"I convinced him to move over here and let ... me move my sewing into there to keep people from coming into — like, you get off from work. You come by to try on your stuff. I'm trying to get supper for the family in the same room you have to try on your dress, you know," she said.
"I opened up with $1,500 worth of merchandise. That's all I had," she said.
Even though she had no formal business training, the self-taught seamstress was careful to reinvest profit into her growing company.
"Starting with nothing and reinvesting every dime that came in for many years to build the business wasn’t easy. I didn't take home a paycheck from the business for (20) years, but I did earn some money from dressmaking I did for customers," Greene said.
Her company also provided a way for her to stay close to home and her children, a daughter, Tammi, then age 7, and a 9-year-old son, Shawn, a special needs child. Few options were available for after-school care.
Tammi Hudson, the store's machine technician and part owner, said watching her mother build her business taught her to work very hard for what she wanted.
"You have to listen to your customers and be willing to be flexible and move your business with what the customers are looking for. For instance, we began with lingerie fabric, added t-shirt kits, moved to more fashion fabrics for garment and evening/wedding wear. Now we are focused on quilting fabrics and embroidery," Hudson said. "I hope that I can keep Margie's Sew Much Fun going for several more decades using the principles she has taught me."
The store has gone through several expansions and a name change to Margie's Sew Much Fun to encompass the variety of classes and products available. Customers take quilting, embroidery and individual project classes. There are also classes that teach sewing techniques and how to use specialty fabrics such as Kraft-Tex — made from leather — and material from corks.
A family affair
Greene said she's had too many students through the years to count.
"We have grandchildren of people she taught how to sew taking classes," Hudson said.
"In the summer, we're fixing to have our varsity and junior varsity kids' camp classes, and a lot of these kids that come are children of people that we taught. Even great-grandchildren," Greene said.
With Hudson, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
"I worked in the business from the time I could stand up and cut fabric," Hudson said.
She and her mother would make Bulldog cheerleader uniforms in the summer. Hudson said she also made her own clothes since store-bought clothes rarely fit her.
"I made nearly everything I wore to school," Hudson said, "and what's really funny about that story is I thought my peers knew how poor I was because I made all my clothes. I'd come in wanting a new outfit for the dance or something tonight, and I'd make me something real quick ... All that time I was in school I thought my peers all looked down on me," she said.
A few years ago, she spoke to one of her fellow classmates, she said, who told her that her peers thought she'd actually gone to Birmingham and Atlanta and bought all her clothes.
Even when Hudson was in kindergarten, her mom said, customers would give Margie the left over fabric from their dresses to make clothes for her daughter. She also would barter with her mother-in-law for feed sack material.
"She wore a lot of feed sack dresses … to get one of Mrs. Greene's (her mother-in-law) feed sacks I had to agree to make her something out of feed sack so I could get one for Tammi," Greene said.
Hudson graduated from Crestview High School, went to college for a year, and after that began working for the distributor who introduced her mother to the Bernina sewing machine, Derrel Slaughter. She was a Bernina district manager until 1994.
The Bernina connection
Slaughter owned a company called Derrel's Sewing Center in Pensacola, with four franchises, and was a southeastern U.S. distributor for Bernina machines and supplies.
He contacted Margie one Sunday to show her a Bernina and see if she would sell them to her customers. Greene said the buttonhole and blind hem features she tried that day were what sold her on the brand.
"I've been sewing on a Bernina ever since," she said.
The staff of 10 at Margie's provides in-person, in-depth instruction for every machine they carry, whether Bernina or Janome, quilting, sewing or embroidery-related. Customers ideally leave the store knowing exactly how to use their new purchase.
Hudson said one customer looking at a 16-needle embroidery machine asked her, "What do I get with this machine?"
"I looked at her and I said, 'The most important thing you get with this machine is me,' and she said, 'Sold.' ... She didn't need to know anything else, because she'd already done all the research. And I didn't know it but she'd been somewhere else and asked the same question and got the wrong answer."
The other business had given her the option of home delivery and teaching herself from online videos, according to Hudson.
When Hudson came back to Margie's, her dad was the store's technician and repair person. She has fond memories of working with him on customer's machine repairs. She had volunteered to attend all the training classes for the new machines Bernina released in 2008.
"When we had those kind of machines come in, I would do that service and my dad would kind of work with me, and when he had older machines, I would work with him on those. He passed in 2014, so now I have to do all of them," she said.
Greene, 74, and Hudson became partners in 2016 to address the continuity of the business.
Greene recognizes that she's not going to be here forever, "but I can't imagine doing anything else, so I guess I'll just be doing this," she said.