Monday, July 27, 2015

Bolts of Inspiration

By CYNTHIA LEWIS, Our State Magazine
Original Article: Our State Magazine, August 2015 Edition (

From orange to organza to polka dot polyester to satin in more shades than a bridesmaid can imagine, Mary Jo’s Cloth Store in Gastonia can overwhelm even the most fervent fabric fan.

A bit of advice if you venture into Mary Jo’s Cloth Store in Gastonia for a specific item - a button, perhaps, or a yard of fabric for your summer sewing project: Make a list. The sheer size of the store - 32,000 square feet and so humble in its decor that the word warehouse glorifies it - is so staggering that you may be momentarily stuck with amnesia. Aisle upon aisle of fabric. Rack after rack of zippers and threads. The options seem endless. Metal, coil, invisible, plastic, and open-ended zippers line up, eight shades of pink melding into coral on one end and red on the other. Survey the store’s sections: quilting, home “dec,” bridal materials, three walls devoted to trim and ribbon in every conceivable width and color. You recognize the sensation that’s been tickling your mind: abundance. No matter why you came to the store in the first place, you have the comforting feeling that, inside Mary Jo’s, you’ll never run out of anything you could possibly need or want.

Untold miles of fabric in every conceivable texture, color, and pattern fill Mary Jo’s Cloth Store. The sight has been known to inspire a plunge into a stack of cottony cloth, as the store’s namesake did for a photo that appeared in The Charlotte Observer on June 9, 1997.

Nowhere is that joy of abundance more evident than in one of the most publicized photographs of the store’s founder, Mary Jo Cloninger. Photographed from above, she rests atop bolts of cloth, one arm encircling her head as if she were on a luxurious mattress. That joy, and her more than 60 years in the business, earned her the unofficial title of Fabric Queen.

In 1951, when Mary Jo established her business in the back of her father’s grocery store, her clientele was the stay-at-home mother on a budget. “She kept her markdown low to keep it affordable,” says Thomas Cloninger, Mary Jo’s son and current CEO and CFO. She didn’t advertise. And, adds Thomas, “she never looked at a balance sheet.”

As the business grew, it overtook her father’s commercial space, and Mary Jo moved the shop to its own separate locale down the road in Dallas, and finally to Gaston Mall. All the while, Mary Jo’s continued to cater to families, especially their weddings.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the store carried 25 to 30 colors of satin, in would come what Betty Cloninger, buying manager and Thomas’s wife, calls “the tribe”: the bride; her mother; her grandmother; and a slew of bridesmaids, aunts, and cousins. In one intense shopping spree, they bought everything necessary to make all of their dresses and turn themselves out as an ensemble by virtue of their coordinating clothing.

Proof that the love of fabric is a family affair: Thomas Cloninger with his mother, the matriarch and namesake of Mary Jo’s Cloth Store.

Nowadays, the bridal inventory has shrunk, an index to the fabric business at large. Pre-recession mill runs of 2,000 and 2,500 yards or more of individual fabrics are now reduced to as few as 500 yards. If Betty wants some of that yardage, she must express interest as far as nine months in advance. Chances are it’s “one run and done.” No manufacturer wants to be sitting on thousands, or even hundreds, of unsold yards of fabric.

Despite the shifting conditions, Mary Jo’s has continued to thrive as one of only five or so one-stop suppliers in the nation to designers of theater productions, films, quilting fests, and sumptuously appointed homes. “She was the first big-box store in the industry,” says Thomas of his mother’s enterprise.

Mary Jo has retired now. But the company still honors the characteristics of a family business. The store manager, Jeannie Guffey, has served for 39 years. Guffey’s mother worked here, too, putting in 45 years. Guffey’s granddaughter occasionally fills in. And a handmade sign still hangs above the checkout counter: “Mary Jo's will always be open to serve our customers.” Here, on the packed notions wall, buttons range from timeless pearlescence to checkered racing flags. Kilt pins, tomato pincushions, and wooden darning eggs from an earlier era take their place next to the latest gadgets for hemming and marking and cutting and quilting. Barry Manilow croons “Copacabana” over the sound system. And the fields of cotton roll on as far as the eye can see.

Cynthia Lewis, who teaches Shakespeare and creative nonfiction at Davidson College, regularly publishes nonfiction. She got hooked on Mary Jo’s when, in the 1980s, she began making curtains for her new home.

Monday, July 6, 2015

6 Tips on Conquering Girl’s Day Out like a Pro!

It’s that time of year again - the time when your favorite fabrics are reduced to unbelievable prices, when professional demonstrations are free to all and when you can tenderly caress fabrics in public and not be judged; it’s Girl’s Day Out at Mary Jo’s! 

After such a phenomenal response in 2013 and 2014, Girl’s Day Out is returning for its third year! If you haven’t been able to make it before, don’t sweat it. We have compiled the top 6 tips on how to get the most out of this one-day-only extravaganza!

1. Arrive Early

Doors opening at 9 a.m. haven’t stopped our fabulous fans from arriving in the wee hours of the morning to camp out in a line that wrapped around our 32,000 square foot store. Same goes for this year; we recommend grabbing some chairs and claiming your spot in line early! We’ll have donuts and coffee to help you make it through the wait!

2. Be Prepared

With only so many hours in the day and tons of demonstrations to see, fabrics to purchase and prizes to win, having a plan of attack can make all the difference. Plan ahead and know which fabrics you can’t live without and what time your demonstrations are starting. What’s the best way to know when everything is going down? Join our Girl’s Day Out Facebook page or sign up for our newsletter for all of the latest event details and information! 

3. Use the Buddy System

Girl’s Day Out is all about the girls! Bring a friend and enjoy the ultimate ‘shop til you drop’ experience. Better yet, you can even have your partner in crime help scope out the next sale section while you finish getting your fabric cut. Team work!

4. Treat Yourself

At Mary Jo’s, we love our customers! That is why our entire Girl’s Day Out event is centered on you. It’s our personal way of saying thank you for the love. How are we doing that? Not only have we worked with vendors to negotiate special pricing on fabric, but we have secured amazing prizes (like Baby Lock sewing machines, fabric and gift cards) that we’ll be giving away every 30 minutes all day long!

5. Boys ARE Allowed

While we do love our ladies at Mary Jo’s, the fellas are just as fun! Everyone is welcome, from hubbies to male sewing aficionados. Featuring home décor demos, giveaways and even a designated husband lounging space, everyone can find something to enjoy at our Girl’s Day Out event.

6. No Excuses

Don’t live nearby? No sweat! We have partnered with Hampton Inn (1859 Remount Road, Gastonia NC 28054) for a special GDO rate. Click here or call 704.866.9090 to book your room today! Still can’t make it? Don’t worry! With our Girls Day Out Internet Sale you’ll get 10% off your entire online purchase from 6 a.m. July 11 until 6 a.m. July 13 at!* 
*Subject to availability. No special orders. In stock only. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Don't miss out on our biggest sale of the year!

Join us for our 3rd Annual Girl's Day Out Sales Event July 11, 2015! This is our biggest sale of the year! Time to stock up and save big!



We're GIVING away the good stuff - like Baby Lock sewing machines - every 30 minutes! Sewing machines, fabric, gift cards and more - how can you say no?!


We're Giving You MORE $$$ to Spend at Mary Jo's

What's better than a day full of savings on your favorite sewing, crafting and quilting must-haves? We say getting rewarded for your purchases! 

This year we're offering $5 worth of MJ Bucks on every $50 you spend at Girl's Day Out. MJ Bucks earned will be valid from Sunday, July 12 until Saturday, August 15, 2015!*

*not valid on furniture and sewing machines


Amazing goodie bags for our first 100 customers!

Our first 100 customers will receive a goodie bag valued between $45 and $75, plus a chance to win some awesome prizes like a $100 Mary Jo's Gift Card or a Baby Lock BL9 Sewing Machine! Make sure to set your alarm and arrive early; you don't want to miss this!


Register to win! 


Your favorites are priced to sell!

  • Minky Print Remnants - On Sale!!!* 
  • Batiks – Discounted!*
  • Christmas & Halloween – Special Pricing!* 
  • Clover & Olfa – Additional 10% Off!*
  • Beaded Trim Bundles – Starting at Just $5!*
  • Jumper – Save Big; $17 Per Yard!* (no re-order)
  • Burn-Out Costume Fabric - $5 Per Yard!* (normally $26.99 per yard)
  • Selected Printed Spandex - $12 Per Yard!*
  • $4.50-$6.98 Table – Everything $3 Per Yard!*
  • Vintage Lace – Priced as marked!*
*Exclusions may apply. See store for more details. 


Don't miss out on our special Girls Day Out demos! 

Let the pros teach you all about:
  • Measuring Windows and Cushions to Accurately Calculate Yardage
  • Double Miter Tool & Point Turner Tool
  • Pillows with Borders
  • Free Motion Quilting
  • Flying Geese Ruler by Quilt in a Day
  • Dresden Plate Ruler

Baby Lock 3rd Year Anniversary!  

Mary Jo’s Sewing Machine Center and Sewing Lounge is offically 3-years-old and we're celebrating with FREE demos from home décor and quilting to fashion! Learn from the pros! Don’t miss deals and steals!

Can't make it July 11th? 

Don't worry, we've got you covered! Get a discount on your ENTIRE purhase at from 6 a.m. July 11th until 6 a.m. July 13th! 


Traveling for Girls Day Out?

The Gastonia Hampton Inn is offering a special, discounted rate for Mary Jo’s GDO customers. Click here to book your room!


Sign up for our newsletter at or visit us on Facebook for more details!