Sewing slips and sales, too

Perplexed shoppers in many big-city department stores who find themselves looking for sewing departments and saying, "Where did it go? It was here a couple of months ago," are not alone. In many department stores across the country, the former spread-out piece-goods departments have been eliminated.

Retailers see two reasons for this: Fewer American women are sewing for them-selves or their families; and bolt-end fabric merchandise has been difficult to adapt to speeded-up systems of electronic stock control.

One department store executive related the reduction in people who sew to the expanded number of women in the work force. "There's not much time for women to handle office chores as well as all the former domestic duties expected of stay-at-homes," the official said. "We like to think, too, that our ready-to-wear styles and prices have made retail factory-made apparel more attractive."

Recent industry surveys show that since 1976, the number of women doing domestic sewing has dropped almost 12 percent. Increased sewing machine prices as well as those of sewing-related items are believed to be a factor in decreased piece-goods sales. But probably the biggest reason influencing retailers to discard piece-goods departments has been declining profits.

Selling bolt materials requires intensive product handling people to measure, cut, reroll, price remnants, and clear slow-moving items. These activities, which do not lend them-selves to electronic recording (as in many other departments) require extra personnel. In addition, there is the high-risk factor in poor-selling materials. There often require heavy, expensive markdowns.

Unless departments like these, which require more people and more mark-downs, can compensate for these higher expenses through abnormally high profit margins, retailers tend to replace those sections with more profitable merchandise.

The piece-goods business, long a staple of American dry-goods counters, has swung to catolog purchases and to fabric specialty stores, where sewers can also get patterns, notions, and possibly some expert sewing advice.

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