Cathe's intense passion for stitching, coupled
with her dream to create the ultimate needlework establishment, were the
overriding factors propelling her into this endeavor. Once she realized
that she did not have to give up her other career as an engineering manager
in the computer industry to do so, this fantasy quickly began to develop
into a reality.
Cathe found the ideal location in the newly renovated Alameda Theater*,
opening her store on March 27, 1998. The walls of thread constitute the
most striking feature of the shop and Cathe considers their visual impact
a crucial to the atmosphere. In furnishing the shop, her aim was to make
it feel as much like home as possible - a teak desk and credenza form the
checkout counter and the linen selection is stored in Early American style
cabinets and Shaker reproduction pieces. The cutting table consists of
two buffet tables with granite tops placed back to back. Other wares are
displayed in a French Country cupboard, an hexagonal display cabinet and
two small apothecary chests. A cozy kitchen area, with a pot of tea steeping
at the ready, forms the perfect setting to sit, sip, stitch and chat. "Open
Stitching Night", every Thursday evening prompts stitchers to bring
their projects and congregate with kindred spirits in this informal and
implementing her concept of how the shop should be outfitted, arranged
and managed, Cathe's plan was crystal clear. She dubbed her stitchers'
emporium as "The Purveyor of Fine Needlework Supplies," suggesting
the highest level of quality in products and service. Every member of the
staff is an accomplished stitcher and when hiring an employee, examples
of their needlework are as important as a resume of their work experience.
Paramount among Cathe's goals was to provide her clientele with hard to
find needlework supplies. This M.O. is the reason behind the name; Cathe
wanted to offer items that were as difficult to locate as the proverbial
"needle in a haystack." In providing customer assistance, Cathe
strives to strike the perfect balance between helpfulness and hovering!
This close attention to subtleties is what has made her shop an overnight
thread selections, with few exceptions, entire lines are stocked. For the
Caron Collection, Cathe stocks all the fibers in all colors.
Watercolours, Waterlilies and Soie Cristale are also sold in larger hanks
and Soie Cristale is available by the yard. The variety of fabrics and
canvas is enormous, with a concentration on linen and linen band. Specialty
fabrics such as Silk Gauze, Australian Wool Blanketing and Linen Twill
are staples. A large array of hand painted canvases, needlepoint kits,
cross stitch and counted thread charts and kits of other needlework techniques
are inventoried. Needlework accessories and tools, simple to extravagant,
round out the selection.
A much valued service is provided by serging any fabric sold, so that the
customer can begin stitching right away. Their color matching service accommodates
stitchers who want to change from one type of thread or fabric to another.
Classes are taught by the staff, local and nationally known teachers and
individual instruction is available for those who prefer a more personalized
session. These sessions are often impromptu, attesting to the prevailing
The shop website at www.murder.com/haystack/ is in a constant state of
evolution. Though open for such a short time, they have already amassed
an impressive local customer base and loyal following. So loyal in fact,
that customers and teachers often volunteer their time in helping out.
Cathe stresses that she plans for the shop to be around for a long time
to come, and given that time frame, it's mind-boggling to think what she
might accomplish in the future!
Cathe intended to continue her computer career, she was adamant about hiring
employees who shared the same goals for the business and passion for needlework.
She was most fortunate in finding her manager, Ada Haydon, whose fervor
matches her own. Ada has made her mark with her own stitching and business
skills and she continues to marvel at the unexpected circumstances that
led to this self-proclaimed "dream job." The rest of the staff:
Katy, Chris, Anne, Ann Marie and Joy, is equally dedicated. Since Cathe's
schedule allows her considerable flexibility, she keeps on top of day-to-day
affairs. She also singlehandedly publishes the shop newsletter, which aside
from being extremely informative, reflects the store's ambiance and Cathe's
A foray to the July Charlotte Needlework Market was made up of a "Haystack
Convoy" consisting of Cathe, with Ada and Susan in tow, each equipped
with rolling cart, complete with file folder baskets and sporting licence
plates reading "Haystack 1, 2 and 3." Organization, refined into
a "class act," is another of Cathe's talents and it's obviously
Undoubtedly, you're wondering about the "murder" in the shop
website address. Both Cathe and her husband, CArl Smith, are life-long,
avid mystery buffs. When they decided to register a domain name, this interest
seemed an appropriate theme to choose. After the shop opened, Cathe investigated
using "haystack.com," but that address was already owned by an
agricultural combine company and using "needleinahaystack.com"
just seemed too cumbersome. Inspiration struck: why NOT put it under
their existing name? It certainly was memorable - Cathe has yet to hear
of someone forgetting it! "Besides," she adds with a mischievous
glint in her eye, "have you ever seen a stitcher whose project has
been `compromised' by the family pet or through some other mishap? Doesn't
seem such an odd combination, now, does it?", implying that you never
know what might happen if you really rile a needleworker. Considering
the standards she has set for her shop, that's one thing that Cathe will
probably never find out!
Needle in a Haystack is located at 1340 Park Street, Alameda, CA 94501
Phone: 877-HAYSTACK toll free or 510-522-0404
Store hours: Tuesday - Saturday 10am to 6pm, Thursday 10am to 8pm,
Closed Sunday and Monday
Cathe stresses that a lot of other individuals'
"blood, sweat and tears" went into this endeavor. "I couldn't
have pulled this off without the talent and hard work of my staff, most
especially Ada, and the support of my husband, Carl," she asserts,
voicing her enormous gratitude to all who have contributed their time and
For more information on Cathe Ray, visit her personal website at http://playground.sun.com/pub/cathe. She's got lots of other tricks up her sleeve!
*The last building to house the Alameda Theater is now home to a