By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to the Appalachian
BAY ST. GEORGE – In 1955, Leo Bruce formed the Bay St. George Chamber of Commerce using the services of a field worker from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and a number of residents from the town. The Bay St. George Chamber of Commerce is the first chartered Chamber of Commerce in Canada.
The focus of the Bay St. George Chamber of Commerce has always been to promote and encourage avenues of economic growth in the region, and through this spirit of enterprise came the Leo Bruce Award. The Leo Bruce Award is an annual award that is given to a nominee who exhibits a positive impact on the Bay St. George region and excels in all areas of business and shows leadership within their community.
This year’s recipient is Susannah Rose Quilt Patch, which recently celebrated five years in business. Owner Christine O’Brien, a long-term member of the Rotary Festival and many other committees, was also nominated for and won Citizen of the Year in 2017.
O’Brien said the idea of starting her own quilting business was something she had on her mind for quite some time.
“I began in 2016. I had wanted to, and was in the process of, developing a plan to start a quilt shop and we were planning on having it close to my husband’s business at the time, but in February of 2016 I was no longer employed so I decided that it was the right time to do it,” said O’Brien. “By March of 2016 I was searching for places to supply me with the goods that I needed. I had the place to operate from and I had the full support of my husband and my family, so we just got right at it and in August of 2016 I opened the doors to customers.”
O’Brien identified a niche she felt her business would fill; a void that was missing for many people in the community.
“I always felt there was a demand for this type of venture in our area, and quilting has really taken off throughout the world.”
O’Brien said that people aren’t just coming to her shop from across the island, but other countries as well.
“We’re having people from all over the world. We’ve had people from the U.S., and several people from Australia,” shared O’Brien. “It has grown so much that it has been hard to keep up, but it’s a good thing. We are continuing to evolve, continuing to make changes, and continuing to grow.”
There are many plans on the horizon for Susannah Rose Quilt Patch. Expansion to the other side of the building where the business is located is underway, as well as an official website, which will be up and running as soon as possible. Customers will be able to browse and shop from the comfort of their home.
O’Brien also hopes to have another tour bus of quilters make a trip out to the shop. Before COVID hit, a bus with 42 quilters came to Stephenville and by every measure had a great time at the quilt patch.
“They had a wonderful experience and commented on our Facebook page and sent messages back to us saying how welcomed they felt,” said O’Brien. “I have an excellent staff who went out of their way to make treats and make up treat bags for them to take with them. You make it an overall experience. It’s not just about the fabric and the notions that you have. You interact with people and you build relationships.”
O’Brien said starting her business required a lot of long hours, hard work and a full-time commitment but, with the support she has around her, she has since gained more flexibility with her hours.
“I have four other staff members. I consider them more family than staff,” said O’Brien. “They have a passion for this business the same as I do. They love quilting and sewing and they show that every day to everyone who walks through the door.”
O’Brien said she was disappointed that pandemic protocols meant she was not able to continue offering regular quilting classes.
“I love teaching people the art of quilting and I love to be sharing that with as many people as we can, but of course COVID has squashed that a little,” said O’Brien. “We are getting back to being able to do it with social distancing and we look forward to it opening up even more in the future.”
O’Brien said it feels really satisfying to win the Leo Bruce Award and she is very thankful.
“What my award is every day is when a customer comes through the door and is pleased with the service that they get. However, having the honor of receiving this award was really humbling and myself and the staff really appreciate it,” said O’Brien. “We really want to thank our local Chamber of Commerce for acknowledging us in this way and a special thank you to Mary Lambert. Mary has come to our shop as a student and has learned to quilt and attended our Thursday evening classes for a couple of years. She recognized the hard work that we put into it and that is really special.”