There are people who stroll the great vendors’ mart at the Sonoma County Fair these days and say, “Whoa! Where’s the sewing-machine dude?”
There’s been a prominent Bernina booth inside Grace Pavilion every summer since before the Earth cooled, and Jim Wyllie manned it for more than 30 unbroken years.
Starting in 1981, Wyllie arose early every day of the fair and scooted to his and his wife Annemarie’s Parkside Sewing Centre. He’d do some work, then arrive at his sales post at the fairgrounds before 10 a.m.
He’d invite passersby to check out his sewing machines until closing time, 10 p.m., then hurry back to his shop to tend whatever needed tending do.
The routine, while great fun, wore him out — and those were the days when the fair ran 13 days and encompassed two weekends. In 2011, it grew to 17 days, three weekends.
“Honestly, at end of those three weeks, I was draggin’,” Wyllie said. He frazzled himself at the 2012 and ’13 fairs, admitting to himself this year that nearly three weeks is just too long to be away from his shop, and takes too much out of him.
Quoting Kenny Rogers, the Sewing Machine Man, now 73, said, “You’ve got to know ... when to fold ’em.”
Of course, he and Annemarie visited the fair this year. He was sorry to see there seemed to be fewer people and, most disconcertingly, fewer families there.
“Why wouldn’t you bring your family to the fair?” Wyllie said. Though it isn’t cheap, he has always thought it’s a terrific deal, considering all there is to is to see and do.
But 12 hours a day for 17 days, that got to be too much of a good thing.