A family owned and operated business this week is celebrating its 20th anniversary in Hamilton — nearly half of its existence.
S.A.N.E. (Sewing Aids & Notions for Everyone) sells basic needs for home kitchens, from Kitchen Aid mixers and other small appliances, to cookware, bakeware and gadgets. For sewists and quilters, it offers notions, scissors and more than 1,000 bolts of quilting fabric.
The sewing and housewares business at 2275 Millville Road got its start four decades ago in Long Island, New York, where Marian Wohlafka was a home economics teacher at Connetquot High School for five years and constantly coming up against the same issue: high supply costs. Her husband, Warren, who was a notions/fabric buyer, offered the idea of putting together a catalog for the sewing departments of local school districts.
“The business was small at first,” Marian Wohlafka said. “The catalog was two pages and a cover letter, offering 43 items, all notions.”
The pink mimeographed pages were given to Wohlafka’s friends and fellow home economics teachers in fall 1976. The “stockroom” for the business was a section of the couple’s basement, taking up all of 100 square feet. In 1978, housewares were added to S.A.N.E.’s offerings.
By 1984, S.A.N.E. outgrew the basement of the Wohlafka’s home, so they went off to look for space. Over the next 12 years, S.A.N.E. moved into four warehouses, each larger than the one before. The product lines grew rapidly, as did the number of pages in the catalog. Over time, orders began coming in from many Eastern states.
In 1999, the couple decided they had enough of New York and moved to Hamilton, opening the business at 2275 Millville Road. That move put S.A.N.E. into into yet another larger warehouse, growing the business to approximately 7,000 square feet.
Wohlafka said and her husband built up “a nice rapport” with the community over the next several years, opening up for well-attended Saturday open houses several times a year. S.A.N.E. continues to grow and supply more schools across the country, she said.
“The best part of owning the business has our ability to control our own destinies,” Wohlafka said. “We control which hours we work and make our own ultimate decisions.”
She said she and her husband and their daughter Karen Wohlafka are “ very proud” of what the family has built in Hamilton, “especially since many small businesses do not survive their first few years.”
They credit the store’s longevity to its biggest strength: its ability to adapt to what customers want.
“We’ve increased our fabric buying for our local quilters and expanded our cake decorating supplies to meet a community need, as well as ordering special requests for local groups and organizations,” Wohlafka said.
The store’s level of employment depends on the time of year, she said. Since it works extensively with schools, its busy season is during the summer, when it employs approximately 15 area teenagers, often for whom this is their first job. During the rest of the year, S.A.N.E. has four part-time staff, plus full-time management.
The Wohlafkas run the business between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, but realize that not everyone can make it in during the week, so twice a year, they hold an open house on Saturday featuring special closeouts, new gadgets and other items. The next one is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 9. The store is about a quarter mile off the road behind Lodder’s Plaza.
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