Years ago, I walked into a fabric store in Hawaii. The woman there asked me where I was from, and I said Paducah, Kentucky. “Ooohhh,” she marveled, “You have THE Hancock’s!” Even in a tropical paradise, Hancock’s of Paducah is a dream destination for many quilters.
Of course, the history of Hancock’s of Paducah may be a little confusing. At one point, there were 250+ stores across the United States called “Hancock Fabrics.” This chain store closed all of its locations in 2016 following its second bankruptcy filing, and Michael’s Arts and Crafts bought the brand. Although many people miss the Hancock store that was in their hometown, Hancock's of Paducah is not part of the chain (and has no current plans to open a second location).Rowland Hancock grew up in Hancock Fabric Center, the store his parents started in 1952 in Batesville, Mississippi. A few years later, his father’s brother, L.D. Hancock, began selling fabric to dry goods stores in small towns which grew into the chain store Hancock Fabrics. Following the death of Rowland’s father William Hancock in 1962, accomplished seamstress Dorothy Hancock continued to run her store and raise her two sons, purchasing the fabric she sold from her brother-in-law’s business Hancock Textile Co.[Dorothy Hancock, photo from The Panolian newspaper April 1989] In 1969, Rowland and his wife Susan moved to Paducah, KY to open a store on the advice of his uncle. He had already helped his uncle open store locations in Atlanta and Memphis before opening his own store at the age of 22. Paducah is located in Western Kentucky, along the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. At the time, this store was also called Hancock Fabrics, although it has always been an independently owned and operated store.
[Photo of the original Paducah store, dated October 1969.]
The original Paducah location was in a 15,000 sq ft building in the Cardinal Point Shopping Center. Previously, the space was occupied by a Kroger Grocery store, and would later be a Dollar General for many years. One of Hancock’s employees who worked at this location remembers how different the business was back then, “At that time, most women made their own clothes at home and Hancock's was the best shop for dress goods within 200 miles. The store carried high-end fashion fabrics, and Mrs. Waggoner would spend hours helping brides pick out the fabric, patterns, and trims for their wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses.”[Photo of Mr. Hancock opening the door to the Cardinal Point Store, 1970s.]
In 1986 a new 30,000 sq ft building was opened closer to I-24 which offered the world’s largest selection of fabric at the time. Ten years later, a second 30,000 sq ft addition was added to provide room for the rapidly growing business. At 60,000 square feet, the store is larger than a standard American football field! Mrs. Hancock remembers a Quilt Show that happened while the new building was still under construction, where fabrics were piled up for shoppers to browse before the roof was even finished.[Photos from within a year of opening the current Paducah store, 1987.]
The American Quilter’s Society held its first quilt show in Paducah in 1986. Quilters and vendors alike visited Hancock’s of Paducah’s new location to stock up on fabric and supplies. As the AQS show continued to grow, Paducah became a destination for quilters especially when the National Quilt Museum (originally Museum of the American Quilter’s Society) opened in 1991. Hancock's of Paducah sponsored the Best of Show prize for the AQS show from 1999-2008. Many of these winning quilts, like "Joy of Life" by Candy Goff (1999) and "Birds of a Different Color" by Caryl Bryer Fallert (2000), are now in the collection of the National Quilt Museum.
As quilting continued to grow in popularity, the store shifted to offering more and more options in premium quilting-quality cotton fabric and fewer options for sewing clothing. At times, the store carried other craft supplies, clothing patterns, embroidery thread, home décor items like silk flowers, and even artificial Christmas trees before shifting primarily to carrying quilting fabric.
Two of Rowland's sons, Justin and Blann, joined the family business in 1992 and 2002 respectively. These men continue to operate the store and oversee major evolutions in the sale of fabric. Justin Hancock says "Throughout my career in this industry, I've seen lots of changes. The quilting industry has seen enormous growth and the advancements in technology like digital printing allow us to carry quality fabrics that weren't possible 30 years ago." He also remembers the introduction of batik fabrics in the mid-1990s from Hoffman Fabrics, and how other manufactures quickly introduced their own lines of these hand-dyed fabrics that quilters absolutely loved. For more than two decades, our store continues to stock an extensive variety of premium cotton batiks.[Several volumes of the Hancock's mail-order catalog]
1992 saw the introduction of a printed catalog for fabric orders. Shoppers in the store were handed a leaflet at checkout and an ad was placed in the back of Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine that led to orders coming in from all over the country. From 1994 until 2018, Justin Hancock produced 80 issues of the catalog for the store. Some of the earliest catalogs were printed in black and white and were priced at $1.00 each. A 1995 catalog lists only 53 colors of Kona Cotton solid fabrics. A subscription package existed at that time for $5/month which sent 20 pieces of 5" charm squares of the newest fabrics each month. Specialty issues were also released for home decor and categories like historic/reproduction fabrics. Between 2000 and 2017, the catalog was over 168 full-color pages featuring the latest fabrics.[Photos from 1992, during the April quilt show.]
In 1995, the Paducah store launched a successful e-commerce site at the web address HancockFabrics.com. Within the first 200 orders, packages were being sent all over the United States, as well as to Great Britain and Australia. Since none of the chain store locations carried the extensive variety of fabrics as our business did in the physical store, catalog, and then the website; this prompted the chain to request we stop doing business under the same name. After being a wholesale customer for over 25 years, our business name was changed to “Hancock’s of Paducah” in 1995 and we cut ties with the national company. The website was relaunched as “hancocks-paducah.com” and continues to evolve to better serve our customers.[Photos from 2007, during the April quilt show.]
The city of Paducah received designation as a UNESCO Creative City in 2013 recognizing the impact of quilting, and we’re honored that our retail store contributes to Paducah’s global reputation and creative culture. “Hancock’s of Paducah is an anchor in our city’s creative industry and legacy as a UNESCO Creative City,” says Mary Hammond, Executive Director of the Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We welcome quilters to Paducah from all corners of the world, and Hancock’s is often at the top of their Quilt City itinerary. The shopping experience is unparalleled, the spirit of creativity is inspiring and the global connections are incredible — a must-visit for any fiber artist!”
As online shopping continued to grow in popularity, occasionally fabrics would sell out before a catalog could finish printing or a line could sell out before the next edition of the catalog was printed. The decision was made to discontinue the catalogs in 2018 to focus on the growth of online sales.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the store closed to in-store shoppers for over a year while employees filled hundreds of thousands of web orders for customers making fabric masks and quilting projects. “The global pandemic presents a lot of challenges, but thanks to our established e-commerce business we can continue to serve our customers and provide a safe workplace for our employees,” says Blann Hancock.
Rowland Hancock has stepped down from running the store full time, and sons Justin and Blann continue to operate as the third generation of Hancocks in this fabric business. The family members are incredibly knowledgeable about the fabric industry and eager to provide the best customer experience to our customers, both in-store and online. Many of the staff have become like family as well over the years of their employment.
With this blog, Hancock’s of Paducah continues to reach out to our customers to let you know what’s happening here and in the world of quilting. You can also find our new products, deals, and news through our emails (click here to subscribe) and on our social media channels like Facebook and Instagram. Whether you visit Hancock’s of Paducah in-person or shop with us online, we hope to be able to help you with the materials you need to create the special quilts and items you sew.[Photo from 1992, during the April quilt show.]