In the spring of 2010, while walking past the abandoned St. John’s Lutheran Church in Pinconning, resident Tina Bauer started piecing together an idea.
The building's architecture and stained glass windows reflect its history as a church.“I just had a vision of it being this fantastic store - a quilt shop,” Bauer said.
That vision fed her passion to become an entrepreneur and she left her job at Pinconning Area Schools that year. She briefly considered basing her quilt shop in Standish, but instead returned to the church that had sparked the idea.
She wrote a letter to the owner, who had decided to take it off the market because there had been very little interest in years.
From there, it went fast.
“In 24 hours, she was here to meet me and I bought it within a couple of days,” Bauer said. “It was very unusual. I had never been in the building prior to that, ever. They had boarded up the windows when the church left here. So, when I bought the building, we did complete preservation. It was a lot of work. We had planned on opening in June of 2011, but we could not keep people out. People had already started to hear about it, so we had to open early on March 7, 2011.”
Since that March day, the Bittersweet Quilt Shop & Home Décor, located at 624 West Fifth Street in Pinconning, has become a hot spot for quilters, seamstresses, crafters, and scrapbookers from all over the Midwest and Canada. The stained-glass windows and German craftsmanship of the building creates a fantastic and distinctive shopping experience.
“We are a destination,” said Bauer. “What we specialize in is hard to find. We're a unique store. We carry reproduction fabrics from the Civil War through the 1930s and the other half of the store is modern fabrics.”
On top of the unique fabrics, the store blocks out space for home decorations and a few antiques. Bauer often swaps out the decorations and antiques, offering seasonal items. She also offer weekly classes in the basement and has turned the loft into a bunkhouse that can sleep up to six people for weekend retreats.
The success of the quilt shop and smaller retreat space led Bauer to purchase a second abandoned church property in Pinconning. In January 2016, she opened Bittersweet Vintage Retreat at 216 East Fifth Street, about a half-mile from the shop.
The converted rectory sleeps 10, has enough space for everyone to work, converse and even prepare meals in the full kitchen. The house is decorated in a unique vintage 1920’s atmosphere and each bed is charmingly adorned with a handmade quilt.
Tina Bauer's quilt designs have been featured in national magazines including Better Homes & Gardens, Primitive Projects, and Quiltfolk.This space is perfect for all types of creators and groups looking to make memories together.
Weekend retreats allow quilters to work, trade quilting tips, and learn new skills. Many quilters stay at the Bittersweet Vintage Retreat, where a handmade quilt covers each bed.“Staying at the retreat house is a wonderful experience. It has the comforts of home and it gives me the chance to unwind with my friends as we scrapbook together,” said Amy Trombley of Bay City, who recently stayed two nights.
Opening a quilt shop at the age of 40 is uncommon and goes against the grain, according to Bauer.
“When I started the business, they called me the baby. Most women who open a quilt shop are in their mid-50’s. At the time I had only ever been in three quilt shops, ever. So, I really wasn't familiar with what a quilt shop completely contained, but I had a different idea of what I wanted to do,” Bauer said.
And what she has done is create a place she enjoys.
“You should have a place that you're surrounded by things that you love. If it's music, and you want to sell instruments, then put things in there that you absolutely love. Because I can tell you this, other people love what you do, too. And then you just have to find those people to bring them into what you love,” Bauer said. “I love this place. I love what I do.”
That love has connected with many that have come into the store.
“We have a woman that comes to this store twice a year. She's from Canada. She walks in that door and she goes, ‘I'm home!’ She screams it and everybody in the store hears her. She just loves to be here. We have fantastic customers,” Bauer said.
The shop and retreat are filled with quilts of every color and size.Sewing since she was 7 years old, Bauer’s love to create and passion for people has landed the quilt shop in national magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens, Primitive Projects, and Quiltfolk. Some of Bauer’s quilt patterns have been featured and are still being clamored for.
“One of my last designs was in 2018, and that went global on social media. We are still getting hit hard for those patterns every week. Matter of fact, we have hundreds of people waiting right now,” Bauer said. “I would like to do more design work, but it's all about timing.”
Bauer keeps herself busy in her community, as her commitment runs deep to make it a better place. She sits on the Northern Bay County Fund as Co-Chair, volunteers her time to at least one non-profit each month, and her store donates materials to Community Clothing located in Downtown Pinconning.
“I want this community to flourish. I want walking trails in my community. I want a bandshell in my community. I want a food pantry for people who don't have food in my community. I want this town to look nice. If every person that lived in a community did one nonprofit program, just one, do you know how great everything would be?” Bauer said.