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With inventory crowding the aisles, Edna, Todd and Bill Arbeitman plan to double FM Stores' size in a move early next year.
With inventory crowding the aisles, Edna, Todd and Bill Arbeitman plan to double FM Stores' size in a move early next year.

Business Spotlight: Moving Mount Cloth

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FM Stores has been fabric’s home for years – some doors in the store have even been removed in favor of sheets of cloth. Wooden shelves reach to the ceiling, resembling mountains of cloth towering above the valleys of the aisles, loaded with bolts of cloth in every shade, pattern and texture.

“We carry a little bit of everything,” says Todd Arbeitman, who owns the store with his parents, Bill and Edna Arbeitman.

His words ring with understatement: The wall behind him supports racks of upholstery, with rolls of fabric that can’t fit on the shelves stuffed into barrels. The front cash register is obscured by still more shelves of ribbon and tassel.

With a need for more space for fabric and customer parking, the Arbeitmans are building a store with twice the space near Battlefield Mall. With plans for 10,000 square feet, the store will hold a little bit more of everything when it opens in early 2012.

Eleven-year FM Stores employee Julie Wutke says she’s excited about the move.

“I’m so happy for them,” Wutke says, though she adds with a laugh that when the time comes to move all that fabric, “I told him I was going to take a month off.”

The store also plans on moving to the Web.

“We’re going to try to coincide our new building opening with a Web site opening around the first of the year,” Todd Arbeitman says, adding that his wife, Lori, will be in charge of that enterprise.

Arbeitman joined FM Stores in 1995, the year his parents bought the store from Abe Kershenbaum and took on the lease at 1368 E. Sunshine St.

Bill Arbeitman had worked with Kershenbaum since 1952, when their very first store operated near Bass Pro Shops. The FM stands for Farmers Market, a name more apt back then, he says, for a store that sold a wide range of goods much like today’s Walgreens. Arbeitman was roughly 20 years old when he opened it.

“I’m 78 right now, so that’s been a long time, OK?” he adds with a smile.

Arbeitman left Springfield for several years soon after, and almost three decades later, a retiring Kershenbaum asked him to return to the city’s business world. Kershenbaum had been selling fabric at the store on Sunshine, Arbeitman says, and that side of the shop steadily grew until he dedicated the store in 1995 to selling every manner of cloth.

“We’ve tripled our business,” the senior Arbeitman says, declining to disclose revenues. “We had the biggest year we’ve ever had last year.”

Todd Arbeitman says quilting materials account for roughly a quarter of business, and decorators in search of one-of-a-kind cloth buy even more. About 20 percent of sales are of ribbon, tassel and accessories, Arbeitman says, and between 600 and 700 yards of fabric are typically purchased each day.

“Our philosophy is customer service, No. 1,” he says. “We want them to be happy when they come back, we want them to tell their friends, and we want to offer the lowest price.”

To keep prices low, they turn to what Bill Arbeitman says are the country’s best suppliers, including Sherman, Miss.-based Premier Prints Inc. and Burlington, N.C.-based Loomcraft Textiles, which sells leftover furniture upholstery.

Fabric competitors include chains such as Hancock Fabrics and Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts, which typically must match prices set nationwide, Edna Arbeitman notes.

But that competition is friendly, with FM Stores and the others freely sending customers each other’s way if they need it.

“We’re very close as friends,” says Valerie Grimm, manager of the Hancock location on Glenstone Avenue. “We’re here to help the customer,” no matter where they need to go, she adds.  

Todd Arbeitman hopes to keep the momentum going with the new location, slated for 2814 S. Fremont Ave. at the corner of the Sears entrance to the mall. Designed by Buxton Kubik Dodd Creative, the building plans include roughly 5,000 square feet available to lease, he says.
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