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Rag Shop rides craft boom into College Pt.

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In the week leading up to the grand opening Sunday, there was an unmistakable feeling of anticipation in the aisles of this fabric and crafts store. Three days before the Rag Shop officially opened its doors, nearly 25 employees huddled around a store supervisor, waiting for some last-minute instructions. They looked like schoolchildren anxious for the first day of class to begin.

New York is hardly alien waters for the 37-year-old chain. The Rag Shop does, in fact, have 19 stores in New York, but only two in the city: one in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and now one in Queens. The week before the grand opening, the Rag Shop conducted a "dry run" to gauge the receptiveness of Queens residents. And so far, the results have been positive.

"I'm seeing a couple of hundred customers a day," said Marc Margolies, a district manager and nine-year veteran of Rag Shops Inc. "They love it. There are no fabric places in the area. There are no yarn places in the area. And the reception has been phenomenal so far."

The Rag Shop has been expanding prolifically since its founder, Stanley Berenzweig, began selling fabric out of his garage in the 1960s. Translated into numbers, Rag Shop Inc. has been opening between four and eight stores a year, Margolies said, throughout New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Florida. In fact, a Rag Shop in Bayonne, N.J. had its grand opening the same day as the one in College Point.

What sets the Rag Shop apart from its competitors, Margolies said, is that it appeals to customers searching not only for crafts but also for fabrics. So someone looking for, say, art supplies or silk flowers will be just as satisfied as someone else wanting sewing notions or patterns.

The store layout of every Rag Shop allows customers to glide through the merchandise and find what they're looking for with ease.

"Our concept we've adopted over the last few years is that when you walk in, fabrics will all be to one side," Margolies said. "As far as fabrics are concerned, whatever season where in, that's always front and center."

One such season is fast approaching. And even though that amorous February day is still weeks away, white fabrics with tiny pink hearts hang on racks near the entranceway, demanding the attention of customers as they enter. The point, Margolies said, is to display the merchandise as much in advance as possible, to give crafters and sewers ample time to start and finish their projects.

Apart from seasonal tides, some aspects of the store remain in stasis. Whatever the month, there are always flowers for floral arrangements, candles for bridal showers and wooden frames for pictures. Needlepoint kits and wicker baskets invariably line the shelves, as do standard fabrics and yarns. And custom framing, yet another selling point of this store, is available on everything from needlepoint projects to portraits.

So what's the common thread holding the Rag Shop's market share together? Well, Margolies has noticed that many of his customers shop with an eye trained on one thing - decorating their homes.

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Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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