Threads of love: Community remembers longtime Champlin businessman Walter Griese

Walter Griese, the beloved owner of A-1 Sew Craft in Champlin, died Oct. 26 at the age of 81, leaving behind a successful decades long business and countless devastated customers and family members.

Robin Bouley, an employee at A-1 Sew Craft recounts Griese’s thoughts about owning the sewing machine and vacuum cleaner shop.

“He used to tell the story that he tried to do other things but always got put back into sewing machines,” said Bouley. “He said he didn’t think much of them and didn’t even really like them but every time he was back there doing it for some reason. Finally, he said ‘I just better like sewing machines so he started his business and it took off.’”

If he had a love/hate relationship with sewing machines at the start it certainly didn’t show to his customers who dubbed him, “the most accommodating dealer in the world.”

After working for several companies in sewing machine sales, including Singer, Walter opened his business in Champlin in 1978.

His passion for people won over generations of families as customers.

“I grew up in Champlin with my mom going to his store,” said Kyleen King. “I bought my first sewing machine from him in the 1980’s and have been a long time customer.”

Over the years, Walter moved his business three times but always remained in Champlin. The most recent move was this year to their current location off Hayden Lake Road.

Bouley says his biggest focus was helping people.

“That’s what made him special,” she said. When the two attended a sales conference the presenter was trying to hype up the participants by having them repeatedly answer the question, “What are we here for?” with the mantra, “To make money.”

When the presenter noticed Bouley and Walter were quiet throughout this he asked him pointedly, “What are we here for?”

“To help people,” came Walter’s reply.

“Everyone that walked into his store was a friend,” said King, who appreciated his perspective during her years as a business owner. “He was a mentor and a good friend, a great member of the community.”

One way the community recognized Walter for his good citizenship and leadership was by honoring him as grand marshal of the Father Hennepin parade a few years ago.

“When you walked into the store, you were home,” said Bouley. Beyond sewing machines, perhaps the thread that bound Walter and his loyal customers was his friendliness and wonderful storytelling.

“People liked his stories,” said Bouley. “He had lost of stories about the good old days when he was in the air force and all kinds of stuff.”

It’s been a challenging couple of weeks for Bouley who has been managing the store since Walter’s massive heart attack about a month ago. Bouley has been fielding the calls that have flooded in inquiring about Walter’s health. The past several days have been particularly emotional as customers come in and she has had to share the news.

“People are standing here [in the store] crying, everybody misses him,” she said.

Pete Turok, president of the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce commends Walter on his business success.

“Talk about a Champlin business mainstay. How many businesses have been around since 1978? That’s a pretty impressive thing,” said Turok. “Longevity is a very impressive thing and it tells you a lot about Walter and his family. He will be missed.”

Turok said his wife was one of Walt’s customers and one of the reasons she kept returning was because of the personal touch.

“When you have a question or issue, you would get somebody to talk to — somebody extremely knowledgeable — and you’d get your questions answered,” said Turok. “That doesn’t always happen in today’s world but in Walt’s time and world, it did.”

Walter’s funeral service was held Saturday, Nov. 3. He was preceded in death by his parents, two siblings and two grandsons. He is survived by his wife, Audrey (Gade) Griese of Big Lake, as well as a daughter, son, five grandchildren, 2 great grandchildren, a brother, 2 sisters and many other relatives, family and friends.