Forget the shiny Husqvarna Viking sewing machines on the display floor and the new location on Brooks Street.
This is still his father’s Sewing Center, and Colin Bagnell has no intention of changing it.
Lyle Bagnell was in his 35th year of repairing sewing machines on South Russell Street in June 2009 when he was killed in a tragic head-on collision north of Arlee. The voice of the Frenchtown Broncs, the longtime saxophonist and a beloved figure in so many other circles, Bagnell “swung a real big loop,” his son Colin said recently.
Bagnell’s funeral at the Frenchtown High School gym drew more than 1,300 people, including many of the Sewing Center customers he worked so hard to please.
Colin’s son Pat had been helping his grandfather at the shop that summer. He was there the day after Lyle’s death to consummate the sales of some used sewing machines.
But the future of the business was very much in doubt.
“It’s hard to take a
20-year-old kid and put him behind a bench fixing sewing machines and say, ‘Stay there eight hours a day,’” Colin said.
It was an agonizing time for the Bagnells – Barbara “Babs”; her sons Scott, Tim, Colin, Bip and Cory; daughter, Dana; and all their families.
“My mom told me there were people calling, wondering what we were going to do with the shop,” Colin, 50, said. “She said, ‘We can’t just tell ’em no more, you know?’ So I said, well, I’ll just keep it going.”
During his 30 years at Les Schwab Tires, Colin used to drop in on his dad on lunch breaks and observe.
“I don’t know that I paid close enough attention, but I caught on to some of it,” he said.
For a couple of years after his father’s death, Colin kept the business going by leaving home at 4:30 a.m. to work on sewing machines, then returning evenings after his shift at the tire store. Three years ago, he was in a car wreck himself that left him with, among other things, a severely damaged right leg.
It was time, with his wife Tina’s help, to become a full-time sewing machine repairman.
The Bagnells had moved Lyle’s small, cluttered shop on Russell to a new spot on Burlington Avenue that proved to be clean but small and too hard to find.
In April 2012, the Bagnells moved the Sewing Center to its current location on the
93 Strip at 3213 Brooks St. It offers more room and better visibility on one of Missoula’s busiest streets. They said they get half a dozen sewing machines a day to work on.
The real key to keeping the Sewing Center open, however, was Dale Grossell, an old friend of Lyle’s. He worked at the Boyd Walker Sewing Machine Co. in Spokane, and he took Colin under his wing.
“He taught me more than I could learn at any school, that’s for sure,” Bagnell said. “I would go over there and I would spend a day or sometimes two days with Dale.”
He regularly attends tech classes for the newer Vikings and the electronic parts, sometimes as far away as Florida.
“But my dad worked on any brand, any year of machines, so if it wasn’t for Dale I’d be a babbling idiot,” Colin joked.
Lyle Bagnell started in the sewing busines as a Singer salesman in the 1950s. He opened his own shop on North Russell in 1974, concentrating more and more on service and repairs. Those things remain the focus for his son, but the shop now offers a selection of new sewing and embroidering machines.
Colin said he gets half a dozen machines in a day for repairs. Bagnell also continues Lyle’s practice of traveling to Salmon and Challis, Idaho, every month, where he uses some of his father’s old tools in the back room of McPherson’s clothing store in Salmon. Around Missoula, if an older customer is unable to bring her sewing machine in, Bagnell will make house calls – just as his father did.
Indeed, Lyle Bagnell’s presence is still felt all around the Sewing Center, from his pictures under the omnipresent cowboy hat to the newspaper articles on the wall to the voice message on the phone that Colin and Tina can’t bring themselves to change.
“If I take if off there I can’t get it back,” Colin said. “I don’t think it offends anybody. My brothers call it. I catch myself calling it.”
“Thanks for calling Lyle Bagnell at the Sewing Center,” the voice says. “I’m sorry I was not in to receive your message. If you return your name and phone number, I will return your call as soon as possible. Thank you.”