When retirees get to their middle 80s, most don’t want to or can’t stay physically active. Instead they relax, take up hobbies or devote full-time to television. Their conversations often concern their health problems. But there are exceptions, like Ms. Ola Coombs.
Ola had always wanted to have her own quilt shop and she got her chance at age 79. Ola’s Quilt Shop in Lavonia, Georgia opened in May, 2006. This year Ola will turn 87.
Years ago Ola told her husband that if she ever sold the inherited property she owned in North Carolina, she would open her shop, and he agreed. About nine years ago she sold her property and launched her business a few months later.
Ola rented space at first, then bought a nearby building two years later. Her husband renovated the interior of the new shop and built all the shelves and counters that now fill the space with fabrics, quilting tools, supplies and a classroom with tables where students work on projects.
One of her sons occasionally minds the store on weekends if she must be away. Otherwise, she is on her own with the shop.
Her husband, however, helps at home.“He’s been real cute,” Ola said, “He put his hands on his hips right after I bought this business and opened it and he said, ‘We’re changing jobs.’ And I looked at him and said, what in the world are you talking about? And he said, ‘You’ve done it for all these years and I’m going to take it over, the cooking and the cleaning and everything.’ And he has; my supper is on the table when I open the door, the laundry is done, the house is cleaned.” The story sounds like a song of appreciation.
Some other shops in nearby cities have closed recently, and Ola’s is now the only one within 75 miles that offers as much as she does. She stocks over 3,000 fabrics.
She conducts regular classes for beginning and advanced quilters, teaching both hand and machine techniques. Students and customers come from near and far—Savannah, Charleston, Atlanta, Athens, as well as Lavonia, Royston, Hartwell, and others.
Before opening her quilt shop, Ola was a farmer, and before that she worked as a medical assistant. “I’ve got to be busy at something, and when we moved here [to South Carolina, 14 miles from Lavonia], I went from the medical office to the field, with my tractor. I had three acres, by myself, which is a lot for one person. But I raised 14 different vegetables and went to the farmer’s market three days a week.”
Her husband had his own job, and Ola did the farm work by herself. Now they lease the farm to another farmer.
Ola’s Quilt Shop has survived several years, putting her business in the top half of business startups. According the Small Business Administration, about half of new businesses last five years or more.
She is part of a trend in startups among older people, though she is outside the age range of most statistics. According to the Kauffman Foundation, people between 55 and 64 account for almost a quarter of new businesses. That share has risen from 14% in 1996.
Many of the new “senior” businesses are one-person firms, started to supplement retirement income or, as in Ola’s case, to pursue a life-long ambition. Finally, in her eighties, after years of working as a medical assistant and farmer, Ola Coombs is living her dream, “I’m very pleased, very happy at what I’m doing. … I love quilting.”
Ola’s Quilt Shop is at 1178 East Main St., Lavonia, GA. Store hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Her phone is 706 3566 1562.