OUTING — In a cluttered two-car garage, Anna Thiel works her magic in her lakefront home in Cass County.
The sole proprietor of Anna’s Alterations, Restorations & Upholstery LLC in Outing is committed to making things fit better, saving her customers money and transforming existing furniture into something new.
“I’ve always sewn — I started sewing when I was 8 — but I had been laid off from a job .. and it was like ‘OK, what can I do that was at home?’ and all of a sudden I started talking about upholstery,” Thiel said of the reason for going into business for herself.
A chair sits propped up on a couple of sawhorses in her garage-based workshop, the work-in-progress waiting patiently next to a pegboard with a mallet, scissors, pliers, clamps, screwdrivers and other tools of her trade hanging above spools of thread.
“What happened was I started chatting with people, and I talked to the local Land O’ Lakes Marine here, and we talked about what kind of work might be available if I started doing upholstery, so that's kind of where it started,” Thiel said of her home-based business nearby.
With needle and thread, the 63-year-old wife and mother of two has an easy-going manner about her — a sincerity and genuineness, it seems — that appeals to customers like Kirk Smith, president of Land O’ Lakes Marine in Outing.
Land O’ Lakes Marine has sold docks and lifts, outboard motors, boat accessories and beach attire for more than three decades in addition to servicing, for example, inboard and outboard motors, docks and lifts, restoring pontoons and shrink-wrapping for winter storage.
“We are a Mercury outboard dealer ... but the majority of our business is waterfront equipment — docks and lifts — and we have a full service department and we store boats. And we sell a lot of water toys, sporting goods, that type of thing,” Smith said.
Thiel does upholstery work for Land O’ Lakes Marine on boat seats that have even either worn out or become damaged, according to Smith.
Smith said of their business relationship, “One reason being she’s a block from our dealership … but more than that she does really great work. And we like to support local endeavors.”
"Whether you need reupholstering services for an 18th-century chair or you need new pillows to accent your furniture, Anna’s Alterations, Restorations & Upholstery will provide you with top-quality craftsmanship, service and the furniture of your dreams," according to her website.
Thiel said of her inauspicious beginnings, “One day I went into one of the shops in Brainerd, an upholstery shop, and I inquired ‘Do you know where I can get a used machine?’ And it was, ‘Oh, right here,’ so I picked up the machine ... and away we went, not really with any real definite plan in mind, but it’s always been in my blood for sewing — creativity.”
In 2019, the nation’s average expenditure on sewing machines amounted to $7.70 per consumer unit, according to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data.
“I probably sewed doll clothes that far back,” Thiel said of her first foray into sewing as a child. “I had a battery-operated machine that my parents got me. And the first upholstery-type work I did was bench seats, bench cushions in a van that was modified.”
Pat Czyson is an Outing resident in her 70s who had some work done by Anna’s Alterations, Restorations & Upholstery by Roosevelt Lake.
“Anna has worked on our pontoon … replacing something that was ripped in the upholstery — the seam area — but the latest thing (she did for us) was she refinished some chairs. … I would recommend her in a heartbeat — and I have,” Czyson said.
Thiel claims that repairing and refinishing wood furniture, antique furniture and leather furniture instead of replacing the items can save someone “hundreds of dollars,” which is what she does.
“I like to see things become new. I like to see the creation. ... It gives me a sense of accomplishment for one … and I love color, so anything anybody wants to do, I get to work with some form of color and design in there,” Thiel said.
“Anything that you can put under a needle on a sewing machine — industrial machine — I have pretty much done I've done,” Thiel said.
A red sticker on one of the doors of her garage-based workshop reads: “Old upholsterers never die. They always recover,” just like Thiel managed to weather the pandemic and recover from the recession.
“I would say right now a lot of the work that I'm doing is more interior furniture related. And I believe that also has been increased because of what we experienced over the last year and a have people being home,” Thiel said next to a half-naked loveseat with exposed springs.
Kim David of Minneapolis is a wife and a grandmother who was a graphic designer but retired last year from Macalester College, a private liberal arts college in St. Paul. But David has a place up north on Roosevelt Lake between Emily and Outing.
“I had some old chairs that she recovered the cushions and made cushions and recovered the cushions for some kind of soft chairs … and she’s done also dining room chair covers for me and cushions,” David said. “And she’s recovered, reupholstered pontoon and boat seat covers.”
A modest business sign hangs on a door to the garage-based workshop but David heard of Anna’s Alterations, Restorations & Upholstery from good word-of-mouth.
“Excellent work, absolutely excellent work,” David said. “She’s a very pleasant person to work with, and makes things easy because, you know, she'll come to the house and pick up my cushions and take it back to her place where she works.”
Anna’s Alterations, Restorations & Upholstery remained open during the coronavirus pandemic that saw many businesses closed — some permanently. Thiel started her business in 2011.
“I was able to make it work and if somebody had to drop something off, they would just drop it off — a lot of communication through phone, had mask on — and I actually feel like the business picked up a little,” Thiel said.
Anna’s Alterations, Restorations & Upholstery is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesday and Thursdays, and Saturdays by appointment.
“I kind of limit the time that it's open so that I can focus on the work. … I've been trying to focus on the full-time aspect. And, for me, I think that's still a growing process. And at some point, I'm hoping to be able to move into a different location,” Thiel said of working from home.
“You’re never not working, really, because when you're not in your shop you have got to be at the computer, taking care of the paperwork, and it's just a constant and sometimes you get sidetracked.”
Name: Anna’s Alterations, Restorations & Upholstery LLC.
Number of employees: Self-employed.
Interesting fact: Garage-based workshop attached to home on Roosevelt Lake.