About West Side Sewing
On August 1, 2000 we moved into a new era at West Side Sewing. A milestone we are very proud of. Shelley (Axline) Cervantes joined the West Side Sewing family as the Fourth Generation of Axlines, celebrating a 73 year history of home sewing retailing in Cedar Rapids.
Since its opening in 1927, West Side Sewing has, for three generations, been a “husband and wife” team, working side by side, building a “value oriented” business. A challenge? Yes… whether you’re referring to building a “value oriented” business or a husband and wife working as partners… both had their moments.
In the Spring of 1927, Jesse Claude Axline, known as JC, came home to his wife Gertrude with exciting news. He wanted to open a sewing machine sales and service business on the West side, down town area, of Cedar Rapids. “Exciting news”… considering home, at the time, was a large tent in the Oelwein, Iowa “City Park” and JC was a Magazine Salesman… the news was exciting. But JC was ambitious and the opportunity seemed more stable… so Gertie said… “let’s do it”.
JC, Gertie, Francis (age 11), and Raymond moved to Cedar Rapids in June of 1927 and West Side Sewing was opened. From 1927 to 1952, JC and Gertie worked side by side, building a reputable home sewing center in Cedar Rapids. JC’s experience in sales gave him a head start in sewing machine sales and “bargaining”. It was not uncommon for him to come home after delivering a new sewing machine, with a crate of live chickens and a basket of produce in payment.
Francis worked in the shop as a youth, doing repairs and door-to-door service during the Depression. In 1941 he married, started a family and worked the 3rd Shift as a lath operator for a heavy equipment manufacturer producing products for the War. His 11pm to 7am shift at the factory was followed by a 7:30am to 1pm shift at West Side Sewing with his parents. The schedule continued until the late 40′s. In 1952 JC asked Francis if he was interested in buying the business.
Like a good father, JC cautioned Francis about the risks…“…sewing machines have come a long way, Francis. From pumping a treadle to electric motor drive; from straight stitch to the all new Zig Zag machines. I know it looks exciting to you, when you consider buying the business, but I’m a little concerned about the long term. There isn’t much more these machines can do. I’m not certain how long this will keep people motivated to sew.”
Francis and Helen Axline bought the business in 1952 and worked as a team building an even more beneficial sewing center. Classes were added to show customers new and better ways to sew. Products offered new creative stitches and “open arm” sewing for easier mending and construction. A small knit fabric department was added to capitalize on the all new “Sew Knit and Stretch” construction craze. In the late 60′s “Urban Renewal” took the buildings in which West Side Sewing had been located for 37 years. A long term decision had to be made. A new building (our previous location on First Street SW) was built and opened in late 1969. This decision prompted conversations between Francis, Helen and son David (myself) about my eventually buying the business.
“But, wait a minute Dad and Mom, what happened to… ‘you’re going to get a good education… work 40 hours a week for someone else… with paid holidays, paid vacations, paid insurance, and no ‘take it home at night’ problems…?” The talks went on.
After 10 years of working as a Mechanical Engineer for the Square D Company, going to college summers, nights and weekends, in 1972 I made the decision to buy the family business. But… not before I got the fatherly caution so prevalent in family situations like this…“Dave… I’m somewhat concerned. I know the new sewing machines are “high tech”, and you love engineering, but this year (1972) our top-of-the-line Viking will retail for $800. I’m not certain the consumers will accept much more increase in the price of sewing machines.”
In the Winter of 1972, after carefully considering Dad’s concerns Penny and I bought the business from Mom and Dad. The challenge began. Dad was right, “high tech” did appear to begin at that time, but, WOW… what the next 40 years brought. Computerized sewing machines that think and act on their own. Equipped with a wealth of knowledge in a memory that can be accessed at any time by the operator; and instruct the machine to perform in the best way on a given fabric and sewing technique.
Oh Dad…. if only you and Granddad could see the top-of-the-line Viking today….. ($10,000). It knows more about sewing than I ever will and applies the knowledge, as needed, through its computerized mechanism.
Penny expanded by adding the Fashion Fabric Center and class room in 1981. Her love for fabrics, color and style made the 23 years an enjoyable and challenging adventure for her. However, Penny’s financial prowess and dedication to “managing the money” was her real challenge for 32 years. The adventure rolled on. From a 2 person shop in the First Generation to a 4 person business in the Second Generation and a 10 person Full Service Sewing Center, West Side Sewing kept moving forward with the industry.
Introducing daughter Shelley in the Fall of 2000. Like her father, Shelley was encouraged to get an education and work 40 hours a week for someone else. Self employment does mean you only have to work half days… however… the only benefit is that it doesn’t matter which 12 hours you pick. Shelley followed the advice and developed an extensive background, education and degrees in Retail Management, Fashion Design and Interior Design. (Shelley loves colors, fashion, new ideas and working one-on-one with customers.”)
Shelley, her husband John and son Justin, moved back to Cedar Rapids in 1996 from Chicago where she had been a manager of Lady Foot Locker stores and studied for her BFA degree in Interior Design. She spent 3 1/2 years developing and managing an interior design business in Cedar Rapids called Glass Concepts. In 2002, Shelley, John and Justin welcomed daughter Isabella into their family.
Shelley was joined by a group of the best sewing enthusiasts, educators and consultants the area had to offer. Her initial challenge was to learn ALL the aspects of the West Side Sewing operation. She exceeded that challenge and continues to generate innovative concepts at West Side Sewing. The sewing industry continues to develop, the top-of-the-line Viking is now a WiFi smart machine retailing at $15,000.
The Flood of 2008 relocated West Side Sewing to the current First Avenue location…ironically putting the west side store on the east side. Shelley continues to add significant expertise and value to ALL of your purchases at West Side Sewing.