|At Metro Textiles with Kashi - I blurred the ID # because I might need to buy more!|
So, what's the difference? There are many.
Location, location, location. Well, real estate is a big one. If a vendor has a great space in a great spot for foot traffic, they have to pay significantly more in rent (unless, by some miracle, they made a great deal on a very long lease long ago), and maintain a great environment for shopping. It is a bonus if they also offer a great quality, well curated selection of fabrics, in an easily navigable store. See NY Elegant as an example.
Unusual location. Maybe you have to jump in an elevator, climb a staircase, or visit streets outside of the district to find them, but it is worth every step... See Manhattan Wardrobe Supply , Leather, Suede, Skins, and Fabrics & Fabrics as examples.
Relationships is another big one. Businesses that have been around for a long time, and have great relationships with vendors get great fabric who have a great understanding of quality. They may be able to offer great quality at a better price than you would otherwise pay, but that quality if invisible to you if you don't have your own fabric education. See B&J and Rosen & Chadick as examples.
Knowledge/education. If you want something that washes/launders well, recovers beautifully, doesn't fade, and lasts a long time, there are some great vendors who can show you which fabrics they know to perform well. You won't know this until you try it yourself. I like to cut two squares of the washable fabrics I buy and send one though the wash with my regular laundry in the same color family. I then compare the size and look of the two squares to determine how I will care for the fabric after using it. This is especially important when combining different fabrics in one garment/project. See Rosen & Chadick and Sposabella as examples.
Exclusivity. When a fabric store offers exclusive fabrics other vendors can't obtain, you will pay what the store needs to charge in order to continue doing business. That's just an economic fact. See Elliot Berman and Mendel Goldberg and as examples.
Specialty goods. Some fabric vendors offer a narrower range of fabric types, but they REALLY know what they know. See Graylines Linen, Spandex House, Mokuba, Buttonology and C&J (and so many more!) as examples.
"Closeouts" or just the last of it... Some fabric vendors are buying "what's left" from their suppliers, probably at a wonderful price, which they then pass on to you. But if you want to reorder some of the same fabric in the future, you may find yourself unable to do so. If that is the case, buy more than you need, and cut (if you can't get to sewing yet) before it's too late to get more, if needed. If you wait too long... well, that's the price you pay! See Metro Textiles and Paron Fabrics as examples.
Fantastic Quality. Some stores just have better fabric than you can otherwise find. See Mendel Goldberg and Elliott Berman as examples.
Questionable quality. Some fabric vendors simply sell poor quality goods. This is very easy to learn the hard way. I simply don't feature those vendors on this site, but I make a point of not insulting anyone here, either. Keep in mind that some vendors offerings don't really speak to me, so I don't feature some whose offerings I personally don't understand/appreciate, but really, it may or may not not be a quality issue.
So, how do you know what a fabric store is all about? Ask them! Most will be happy to tell you what kind of business they are running.
And, a warning... this being New York City... some will more than happy to tell you where you can go with your *bleepin'* questions....
Need a map to help you navigate the district? You can buy one, here.