Donna Lillibridge soon will close Quilts on Plum Lane — “The Friendliest Quilt Shop in Florida’’ — and life in downtown Dade City may never be quite the same.
After 17 years in business, Lillibridge simply believes it’s time to go.
It’s not because of COVID-19, she just wants time.
Time to organize her home, do some yardwork, hike new trails, go kayaking and make more memories with her family, including three grown children who live in the area.
She also will keep quilting, just for fun.
But saying goodbye for good? It’s a bit more difficult than she imagined.
The shop has been a mingling place for friends, acquaintances and strangers — a 1,900-square-foot town square, where precious keepsakes were created, quilting classes were held and permanent relationships were forged.
“My goal was not just to sell fabric — anyone can do that,’’ Lillibridge said. “I wanted to help them be successful, so they can come back and do more. If they got stuck or didn’t quite know what they were doing, they could come here and learn. We have had very good teachers here. And, we’ve had so much fun along the way.’’
Lillibridge moved from her native California in 1971, first becoming a classroom teacher in Hillsborough County, then settling into a 30-year stint as a psychologist for Pasco County Schools. Along the way, she revived an interest in quilting, a way to be creative and pass the time, but the quilt shop she frequented was about to close.
“I’m not very good at sitting around,’’ Lillibridge said. “I need to keep busy.’’
She took a chance, opening a quilt shop of her own.
The name? It has a backstory.
When Lillibridge was 4 years old, she remembers walking a few blocks to her grandfather’s house for ice cream. It was a dark and spooky night. Her older brother was too scared to go. She traversed a little dirt alley, surrounded by plum trees. It seemed frightening for a child, but she got the ice cream and made it home.
“You have to take risks to get something you want,’’ Lillibridge said. “That’s why I named it ‘Quilts on Plum Lane.’ It reminds me of taking risks. And, it was definitely a risk. During the recession (2008), I had to borrow money off my house. It was dicey. But we made it. And it came back strong.”
Lillibridge said she will miss the little things — such as carrying flannel and personally dyeing the wool that attracted people from all around Central Florida. She will miss the women — and sometimes their husbands — who started by tentatively cutting the fabric, then got hooked on the craft. She even will miss dealing with various sales representatives, discovering new products and patterns, and finding a way to remain unique.
It always comes back to the people. She will miss the people.
“If you need something and they don’t have it, they go get it,’’ longtime customer Diane Alexander said. “I don’t know what I’ll do now. It’s like part of my life is going away.’’
“I think we’re going to be sorely missed,’’ said Darlene Leosh, who works at the shop. “If there was a class or presentation, Donna was there. If pillowcases were needed at the hospital, she headed that up. If somebody needed a gift basket, she was there.
“I’m trying not to think about the end — because the end isn’t here yet. But, when Donna retires, she can come to quilt camps with us. We can have more time to stitch together. We have enough fabric to last us a few lifetimes. The whole thing is about friendship and making new friends.’’
That was always the philosophy of Lillibridge, who lives three blocks away from the shop with her rambunctious golden doodle, Lola.
“This is a business and you have to be smart about it,’’ Lillibridge said. “You don’t order just what you like. You order what the customers want. You strive to give service that you don’t find at the big-box stores,” said the shop owner, who hasn’t decided the exact day Quilts on Plum Lane will close.
“When you quilt, you have something physical to show for it. Something that lasts. It’s not like playing golf,” Lillibridge said. “It’s a communal thing.”
As part of the send-off, Lillibridge’s co-workers, customers and friends gave her (what else?) a quilt filled with special messages, a tapestry of love that commemorates her contributions to the tight-knit hobby.
“My favorite shop and the best people ever!!! Thanks for being here. Happy times to you!!” — Catherine Coggins.
“Loved every minute and every stitch is precious.” — Becky Gammons.
“Have loved your shop and your girls. Enjoy your future.” — Marilyn Morey.
“Learned so much. Thanks for your support. God bless you much.” — Judith Harris.
“Have a great retirement. You so deserve it.” — Vicki Paquette.
“I am going to miss you Donna and your lovely shop. Have a great retirement and stay healthy.” — Dianne Penney.
Long after the shop closes, the warmth of the quilters’ words will live on.
By Joey Johnston
Published July 15, 2020