Have you ever wondered where you could find the needlepoint belt capital of the world? If so, you should look no further than 9740 Clayton Road in Ladue, home of Sign of the Arrow Needlepoint and Gifts.
This is one of many things I discovered in having a conversation with general manager Julie Filean, vice president of marketing Pam Wingbermuehle and Leslie Masaki, who does public relations work for Sign of the Arrow.
Filean, who has gotten more into needlepoint in her four years as general manager, was even wearing a needlepoint belt that she stitched herself. Filean is a Pi Beta Phi alumna and has previous experience both in corporate retail and managing a non-profit gift shop in Japan.
"I was looking to get out of that big, corporate retail world," said Filean of her decision to start working at Sign of the Arrow.
The store is definitely a jump from the corporate world. Upon entering the store on a cold, snowy day, I immediately observed the warmth that radiates from the people who call Sign of the Arrow their second home, a community that comes to life in the store. Volunteers and customers were chatting each other up, talking about their latest needlepoint projects and the great gifts that can be found in the other half of the store.
There aren't endless aisles of fabric and thread like you'd find in a big-box craft supply store, and a good share of the gifts Sign of the Arrow sells are St. Louis- or Missouri-centric.
They also display needlepoint work done by volunteers and other community members, including their limited-edition Christmas ornaments. Each year, Sign of the Arrow puts together kits for customers to create the signature ornament, according to Filean.
The store does not sell pre-made needlepoint items, but Masaki informed me that they do sell a variety of kits to make your own and will make or finish items for customers on consignment. Their most popular consignment items include hobby belts, which are belts that are stitched with different images, symbols and logos that represent the wearer's favorite hobbies.
One of Pris Gunn's favorite hobbies is undoubtedly volunteering with Sign of the Arrow, as she's been with them since the very beginning.
"It started out with a bizarre once a year at Tilles Park," Gunn said. "We kept wondering, 'What should we do with the leftovers?' This evolved from that."
Sign of the Arrow was founded in 1966 by members of the St. Louis Alumnae Club of Pi Beta Phi, the first national fraternity for women, whose members make-up the store's board of directors. The store is thoroughly a non-profit organization; it is staffed by community volunteers and since its inception, Sign of the Arrow has donated more than $3 million to local charities. Masaki says they donate to 14 or 15 St. Louis-area non-profits each year.
Care and Counseling, which provides assistance to children and adults suffering from mental health issues, is one of the charities the store has been donating to for more than 40 years. They've received up to $20,000 from Sign of the Arrow in previous years; in 2010, they received $5,000, according to Christine Vancil, director of development and marketing at Care and Counseling.
"They're very generous and wonderful ladies," Vancil said of the team of women that have kept Sign of the Arrow going.
More information about Sign of the Arrow can be found on their website, signofthearrow.com.