It’s been said, “In the quilt of life, friends are the stitches that hold it together.” This perfectly describes Jenny Gruenwald and Ann Van Thomme, friends for 17 years and owners of Off the Rails Quilting. Their love for this popular hobby and dedication to serving fellow quilting enthusiasts from their small-town Iowa store has earned them Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa (RRI) Entrepreneur Award.
Located near the trailhead of the Chichaqua Valley Trail in Bondurant, Gruenwald and Van Thomme opened their quilt shop in 2016 after meeting at a local brewery where, by happenstance, the building next door was for sale. Since then, the shop, which offers a wide selection of fabrics, patterns, sewing machines and accessories, has hired 10 additional employees.
Like many businesses in 2020, Off the Rails Quilting adapted their business model to safely meet the demands of their customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. They offer curbside fabric viewing and pickup and appointment-only, in-store shopping. It was their online store, however, that allowed for success during a challenging time.
“We used to ship maybe 10 packages a month, and now we’re shipping around 70 packages a day around the country,” says Van Thomme. In addition to their website, www.offtherailsquilting.com, customers can also download their store app (Off the Rails Quilting) on the Apple Store and Google Play.
Executive Director of the Bondurant Chamber of Commerce Tiffany Luing describes Off the Rails Quilting as a “hidden gem” and applauds Gruenwald and Van Thomme as “highly seen” members of the local community.
“They participate in everything,” says Luing. “It’s interesting to talk to people from out of town, and you mention Off the Rails Quilting, and they know exactly who you’re talking about. It’s great to have something so unique in this part of Iowa.”
The pair have also worked to keep quilters connected through their “Lunch Bunch” Facebook videos streamed live every Monday through Friday at 12:15 p.m. “We all take care of each other,” says Van Thomme. “I see that as I read the comments on Facebook; they’re all helping one another and giving each other inspiration.”
Gruenwald agrees—quilting is a social hobby, she says. After all, it is what forged the friendship between her and Van Thomme. But in addition to loyal quilting patrons across the United States, Gruenwald says it was the “small town” feel of Bondurant that helped their business thrive.
“We talked to some businesses who had really good ideas of how Bondurant was going to grow. Five years from now, I’d like to expand our business and maybe have a second location for a warehouse because our business has taken off with all our web orders,” says Gruenwald.
Mike Ugulini with Polk County Farm Bureau says Off the Rails Quilting has been a welcome addition to Bondurant and he looks forward to the business’s future growth. “Small businesses like this are important to rural Iowa and keeps our community strong,” he says.RRI is an Iowa Farm Bureau initiative that supports new and existing businesses through education, mentoring and financial resources. Since its inception, RRI has helped create more than $125M in economic impact for rural communities. For more information about RRI and upcoming business seminars, visit http://programs.iowafarmbureau.com/RRI.