LAKE MARY, Fla. – Scissors, thread and a heavy-duty sewing machine are the tools of the trade for 87-year-old Georgia Ferguson. But when her trusty and pricey machines stopped working, she turned to Keel’s Kountry Kottage, a sewing center located on Edgewater Drive near Lee Road in Orlando.
Ferguson said without her tried and true machines, she can’t make the numerous homemade crafts the veterans at the Lake Nona Veterans Affairs hospital have come to appreciate. She makes lap quilts, adult bibs and special shirts for disabled veterans as a way to honor her late husband and brothers who were all veterans.
“I feel like these servicemen give their all,” Ferguson said. “And we need to give our all to support them.”
Ferguson said she had used Keel’s years before to fix her machines and had been pleased with the results. According the sales invoice Keel’s gave Ferguson, the Orlando-based sewing shop has been owned and operated by the Keel family since 1960.
When she dropped off the machines, Ferguson said the owner mentioned he would be closing the store sometime in the future. However, Ferguson said he did not mention a date.
When she called to check on her machines a few weeks later, she got frustrated when she couldn’t get a hold of anyone at the store. The line would ring busy or when she did get through, the voicemail would be full, she said. But what really took Ferguson by surprise is that the store was closed when she came to pick up her machines with no forwarding address listed, and no note posted about what had happened to customer machines.
“I thought ‘Oh I’ve lost my sewing machines,’” Ferguson said. “I really thought they would call me if they were going to close and give me an opportunity to come and pick them up. Or tell me if they could fix them. But they didn’t do that.”
Ferguson said a friend told her to call News 6.
News 6 called, emailed and went to Keel’s Kountry Kottage. Even though online it says their store is open, the sewing center was obviously closed leaving customers frustrated and afraid about what had happened to their machines.
A closer look on the Keel’s Kountry Kottage website and Facebook page reveal the store had a liquidation sale on machines and supplies in October 2019. Owner Danny Keel told News 6 he shifted the family business to a mobile business model. The problem is, their new website wasn’t accepting orders, and phone calls weren’t going through.
Keel said a change in telephone service caused the delay, and he promised News 6 he was contacting all his customers who still had machines with him.
Within 24 hours of that phone call, Keel sent his son, with both of Ferguson’s sewing machines and he apologized for the delay.
“We basically have shut down our store, and now we’re trying to move forward and go with the mobile service,” Justin Keel said. “Its just been a huge transition between him moving, closing the store down and both of us starting other jobs.”
Justin Keel said they even discounted the cost of Ferguson’s repairs and have contacted all their clients about the status of all their machines.
"We're still honoring everything, we still have all of our stock intact," Justin Keel said. "At this point, the dust is still clearing out and we're getting organized."
Tips to consumers and business owners
Holly Salmons is with the Better Business Bureau serving Central Florida and says they often step in and help consumers track down business owners who have closed or shifted their business.
"Yeah we see this from consumers is a variety of different industries," Salmons said.
Her biggest piece of advice to customers is to get everything in writing from the business.
Salmons said you should always ask for a timeline estimate and get all your questions answered about the business and the services before you walk out the door.
Especially customers leaving behind expensive items.
Salmons also recommends using a credit card instead of check, debit or cash. Some credit card companies have built in protections should a business fail to deliver on its promises.
As for business owners, Salmons said anyone planning on closing their storefronts or shifting their business online, should make sure to tell clients about those plans way ahead of time whether it is with an email, a call, a letter or even a simple note on the door.
Salmons said that way you are giving customers plenty of notice of your plans.