The Odd Length. That’s what it used to be called when it first opened it’s doors way back in 1980. “It was in the Main Road, under what is now Lion’s Square Spar,” Ida Janse van Rensburg tells me.
“We’re sitting in the office at Station Bargain Warehouse, at the bottom end of Dirkie Uys Street, near the Somerset West station, where the business eventually moved to in the early 1990s, and Ida is telling me the fascinating story of this Somerset West institution, at which she has worked for 30 years.
Started originally by Roger and Hettie Zaduck, the business has been through ups and downs, changed hands a few times, expanded and contracted, but above all else, it has endured.
Bought six years ago by current owner Elise Pauw, from the second owner, Ian Mann, Station Bargain Warehouse is the go-to place for anything haberdashery, stocking as it does a dazzling array of fabric and sewing accoutrements.
If you’ve lived in Somerset West for any length of time, you’ll know of it, and if you sew, chances are you’ve shopped there on more than one occasion.
Customers love it, and so do the staff members, most of whom have been working there for years.
Ida started working at the Odd Length in 1986, after having been a customer for years.
“Hettie asked me to help out for three months in the mornings, because she wasn’t able to take a day off,” says Ida, and 30 years later, Ida is still there.
Igshaan Sauls, the only man on staff – “He’s our muscle,” says Elise with a smile – started there in 1997, Roselind Engelbrecht in 1998, Avelencia van Schalkwyk in 2003, Jolene Bagus in 2004 and Annetjie Robertson, Elise’s sister-in-law, in 2014.
Interestingly, Elise came to buy the business after being a customer for some time.
Born and raised in Cape Town, Elise and husband Theo had lived and worked in Gauteng for 10 years, before returning to the Cape,
and settling in Somerset West in 2010.
“I was working at a charity in Firgrove, giving sewing lessons to a group of ladies. I came to the shop to buy odds and ends for my classes, and I overheard that the business was up for sale. Our children had left home, and empty nest syndrome had struck,” says Elise, “so I was looking for something to do. I had considered opening a coffee shop, but I’ve always loved fabric, so I indicated my interest.”
The then owner, Ian Mann, who had left the country, called Elise back that night from overseas. “I’d never been in business before, so I had no idea what to ask him,” she says with a smile, but she must have asked the right questions, because once she and husband Theo had looked over the books with Ian Mann’s account, and found it to be a going concern, the die was cast.
“It just seemed the right thing to do. Six years later, I’m still loving every minute of it, and I love coming here every day. Thankfully, I inherited all the staff. I could never have done it without them.”
Ida, the veteran of the shop, sees it slightly differently: “Elise saved us, when she bought the shop. She is our hero.”
Two of Ida’s four children, Lizna and Rudolf, live in Somerset West with their families and the ties are strong, but she considers her colleagues at Station Bargain Warehouse family as well. “My children often ask me when I’m going to retire (she will be 80 in February next year) but I don’t think I ever will. After the shop closes on Saturday at one, I have a chance to relax, but by Sunday night, I’m itching to get back to the shop. This is my other family.”
The sense of family, of community, extends to customers as well, as Elise explains: “Some of our customers divide their time between Somerset West and a home overseas, and they keep in touch when they are away, sending us postcards and photos and news of their families over there. It is like one big happy family.”
And if you talk to customers in the shop, you’ll get that same sense of community. “I shop here regularly, as I sew quite a lot. Whenever I need something, they are just down the road, and they generally always have what I’m looking for, and they have wonderfully friendly and helpful staff,” says Somerset West resident Leonora Bentley.
Vivian Alobwede agrees: “I’ve been shopping here for about three years, and I love coming here, because Elise gives me wonderful tips. I like the fact that when I come here and I need something that I do not know how to use, it will always be properly explained. They also have a great variety of fabric.”
BLOB) Station Bargain Warehouse is open Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 5pm, and Saturday from 8.30pm to 1pm.