FARMINGTON — When Alberta and Clyde Chappell opened Bernina Sewing Center in 2003, they envisioned a place where customers could buy a sewing machine, all the supplies they would need and take classes to advance their skills.

Friendships soon followed. Women came looking for a hobby, or in the midst of major life changes, and found a community built around sewing.

"What we've done is we've created a social environment," said Alberta Chappell.

The Chappells plan to close Bernina Sewing Center by the end of the year. They are retiring and have been unable to find an appropriate buyer for the nine-year-old business.

Bernina Sewing Center opened on Oct. 13, 2003. Since then, 8,152 customers have bought sewing machines or taken classes at the shop, or both, according to store records.

The shop is a dealership for the Bernina line, a premium Swiss brand of sewing machines. The machines can cost upward of $7,000 each.

"It's the finest brand in the world," said Alberta Chappell, who likened Bernina to the Porsche of the sewing industry.

The rights to sell Bernina products in the Farmington area became available after the Chappells moved to San Juan County from Garland, Texas, in the Dallas area. Alberta and Clyde had raised three sons, and Clyde had retired from a career in TV broadcasting.

"When I moved to Farmington, it was a natural fulfillment of my goal to use my knowledge to benefit home sewers," Alberta Chappell said.

Chappell, now 67, put to use her bachelor's degree in business and master's degree in design and merchandising.

She organized a series of classes, many of which used online technology to beam in instructors from afar.

Clyde Chappell is also a big part of Bernina Sewing Center. From his workbench at the rear of the shop, he has repaired countless sewing machines for customers. Repairing Bernina sewing machines requires ongoing training. "Every time a new one comes out, you have to go get trained on it," he said.

Clyde has become a fixture at the store, where he is often the only man around.

"The women love him," said Alberta Chappell. "He has lived to please women and their sewing machines."

The shop encompassing 3,884 square feet is located at 3030 E. Main St., Suite Y1, behind Furr's Family Dining. The building is owned by Peterson Properties of Albuquerque.

Inside, a rainbow of thread in every conceivable color lines one wall. Spools of fabric greet visitors at the entrance.

A classroom is in the center.

Bernina Sewing Center has six employees. At times, employment reached 15 workers.

Clyde expressed mixed feelings about the shop's closure.

"I've learned a lot," he said. "I've got a lot of friends that I hate to not deal with daily."

Mary Clements, 47, has been coming to Bernina Sewing Center for about three years. She finally earned a first-place ribbon at the San Juan County Fair this year. Her award-winning quilt hangs at the shop, as do several other projects created by local students that won ribbons.

"I come all the way in from Bloomfield, and I make good friends," she said.

Kathy Dees, 56, has sewed from a young age, but only recently began quilting. She started with a beginning quilting class at Bernina Sewing Center.

"Everybody was very friendly and very helpful," she said. "It was a great place to come and enjoy people and learn new things. I'm very sorry it's closing."

The store is liquidating its inventory with steep discounts; items are now 30 percent off. The Chappells plan to close by Dec. 31.

Clyde summed up the experience on a positive note.

"The bottom line is, we've had a ball," he said.