A WORK OF HEART
In Hamilton, Missouri, Barbara Gibbs Ostmann uncovers a small town’s comeback one block at a time.
See how one business transformed a town into a quilting destination.
I PULLED INTO the town of Hamilton, Missouri, with high hopes. The last time I visited was in 2006 to tour the J.C. Penney Museum, and I didn’t know what to expect.
Back then, deteriorating buildings lined the main street of this sleepy place, which didn’t have much to draw tourists other than its claim to fame as the birthplace of James Cash Penney, founder of the department store chain.
Fast-forward to 2021. The main drag, Davis Street, is bustling— once-empty storefronts house busy shops, and the streets are lined with parked cars and tour buses. Smiling people carrying bags of fabric gather at umbrella tables in the sidewalk food court. What created this phenomenal bust-to-boom? The Missouri Star Quilt Co. and its YouTube channel with 762,000 subscribers.
The business started modestly enough. In 2008, Jenny Doan and one of her daughters, Sarah Galbraith, bought an empty shop on Davis Street and installed a longarm quilting machine with the goal of creating a business finishing quilts for other people.
In 2009, one of Jenny’s sons, Alan, convinced her to make some YouTube videos to promote their fledgling e-commerce site, quiltersdailydeal.com (which now leads to missouriquiltco.com). Soon they were buying empty buildings, turning them into quilt shops, and producing more video tutorials.
As Jenny writes on the website, “Little did we know that within a few short years, we’d be offering over 30,000 bolts of fabric, along with hundreds of our own quilting patterns, quilt kits, our very own quilt magazine called BLOCK, and the world’s largest selection of precut quilting fabrics,” as well as more than 500 videos on YouTube.
QUILT TOWN, USA
In addition to the company’s main shop, today there are 11 others, each featuring a different fabric theme or quilting supplies; the Sewing Center for retreats and events; a mini retreat center for small groups; the Education Center for quilting and sewing classes; and Man’s Land, which offers comfortable recliners, a big flat-screen TV and a pool table for non-quilters.
As the company flourished, so did the town. Missouri Star is the largest employer in Hamilton and has spurred other shops, bed-andbreakfasts and restaurants to open. The result is a booming Quilt Town, USA, as Hamilton is
“EVERYONE IS HERE TO HAVE A GOOD TIME— AND THEY DO.”
often called, that attracts visitors from around the globe.
A HAPPY PLACE
I found a parking spot beside a small park facing the “Welcome to Hamilton” mural. Designed to look like a patchwork quilt, the mural urges the observer to “find your happy place.” Judging by the cheerful chatter, smiles and laughter of literally everyone I met, the town is indeed just that.
It’s no wonder fans call the Missouri Star Quilt Co. the “Disneyland of quilting.” It’s a destination of joy for quilters from all over the world, just as the amusement park is for kids.
Although there were lines at almost every checkout counter, I didn’t hear any complaining. Instead, people were visiting, asking where others were from, what project they were working on, comparing fabrics and sharing tips. When I mentioned this to Rusty Klein, the driver of the free electric shuttle that zips people around town, he said, “Everyone is here to have a good time—and they do.”
In July, Judy Walker, a quilter from New Orleans, met up with 20 relatives and friends in Hamilton for their second quilting retreat there. “Super fun!” she concurs.
Jerri Stroud, an award-winning quilter, visited Hamilton when she and her husband, Mike Saville, moved from St. Louis to Seattle a few years ago.
“We stopped there on our way west. It was a fun place to go, even for Mike. It’s a must-stop for quilters.”