Small Business Person of the Year Award
2022 Small Business Persons of the Year - Marian & Warren Wohlafka
Warren & Marian Wohlafka fell in love with Hamilton when they moved here in 1999 and they have enjoyed making it their home, and home for their business, SANE for the last 23 years.
They were both born and raised on Long Island, NY. Marian was a Home Economics teacher at Connetquot High School and one day in 1975, she sat complaining to her husband Warren about how little money she had in her school Home Economics budget. Warren, who was a fabric and notions buyer for a department store, offered the idea of putting together a flyer of sorts for the sewing departments of local school districts. Thus “Sewing Aids and Notions for Everyone” (SANE) began.
The business was small at first; the catalog was two pages and a cover letter, offering 43 items, all notions. The pink mimeographed pages were given to Marian’s friends and fellow Home Economics teachers in the fall of 1975. The “stockroom” for the business was a section of Marian and Warren’s home basement taking up all of 200 square feet and a $600 initial investment.
Housewares were added to SANE’s offerings in 1978 and from there, they grew the business into a 1,200 square foot retail store with a basement for SANE’s inventory. After five years, they needed yet more space, so took over the storefront next to them. Over the next 12 years, SANE moved into four successively larger warehouses. The product lines grew exponentially, as did the number of pages in the catalog. Over time, orders began coming in from many Eastern states.
In 1999, Marian and Warren decided that they’d had enough of New York. They were looking for a locale that was no colder (for Marian) or warmer (for Warren) than New York, a piece of land, a small town outside of a large city, and a good library system. Compared to a city that lacked a “town”, Marian fell in love with Downtown Hamilton, especially the courthouse. In Hamilton, you could walk and they were charmed by the friendliness of the people. They decided on Hamilton, Ohio and packed up their home and business.
They moved SANE into yet another larger warehouse, growing their business to approximately 7,000 square feet. They discovered that, despite being slightly off the beaten path, people liked to come and shop the many products offered. They added a retail section, and when Marian took up quilting, they increased their fabric selection.
Being a social person, Marian became involved with two local area quilt clubs and a sewing guild, all of which donate handmade items to various charities. She has made doll quilts and doll clothes for the Salvation Army, pillowcases for ConKerr Cancer & Cincinnati Children’s Hospital as well as quilts for Ronald McDonald House, Quilts of Valor, Haven House Emergency Shelter, Hospice of Oxford, and other local charities.
Through SANE, Warren is well known for donating generously to the numerous charities, schools, and churches that approach SANE for help, including Animal Friends Humane Society, the recent SELF (Support to Encourage Low Income Families) auction, Relay for Life, various Ross and Hamilton schools, benefits for local families needing help with medical expenses, Dave Lodder’s Christmas for Kids, and many local fundraisers. The company has also donated fabric and supplies for many charity projects completed by the Oxford Piecemakers Quilt Guild, Hamilton Patchwork Quilt Guild, and Service Sorority Delta Theta Tau.
Warren and Marian are also proud to have donated personal funds to the fundraising campaign which made possible Hamilton’s famous statue of Alexander Hamilton, “The American Cape”.
Most recently, Marian and Warren have paid their entrepreneurial expertise forward as mentors to other small business owners. The Wohlafkas helped longtime friend (and former employee) Lynelle Lyons-Wilson organize her thoughts and finances into a coherent business plan to which they then offered additional ideas and suggestions. They also donated many hours of their personal time in planning and organizational meetings. Their assistance, guidance, and expertise shepherded TerraLuna, a Pilates and Massage Studio, into fruition.
Customer service has always been an extremely important part of SANE’s business practices. Warren often says “the customer is not always right, but they are never wrong.” When a school believes they did not receive an item, it is replaced, even when Warren put that item in the box himself. Teachers sometimes receive the wrong item, or a slightly damaged one. After contacting SANE they are told a replacement is on the way, and they should keep the mistaken or slightly dented item.
Over their 23 years in Hamilton, SANE has employed over a hundred high school students to help through their very compressed summer busy season. For many of these youths, this is their first job where they learn valuable job and life skills
In their spare time, they have turned their beautiful home gardens into a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. Marian has been semi-retired the last few years and Warren is looking forward to retirement in February of 2023. In retirement they plan to travel more, worry less, and enjoy plenty of wine along the way. They leave SANE in the capable hands of their daughter Karen Wohlafka.
2021 - Andy Schuster
2020 - Thommy Long
2019 - John Kirsch
2018 - Kym McCaughey
2017 - Sara Vallandingham
2016 - Eric Pohlman
2015 - Sherry Armstead
2014 - Jane Johnson
2013 - Mindy Mueller
2012 - George F. Schmidt
2011 – Dennis & Robin Kurlas
2010 - Sanders Family
2009 - Edward D. Larkin
2008 - Jeff Pohlman
2007 - Bob Robinson, Sr.
2006 - Bill Boehm
2005 - H. Wayne Ferguson
2004 - Craig Wilks
2003 - Dave Lippert
2002 - Mel “Moody” Baker
2001 - Paul & Joellyn Goos
2000 - Karen Underwood Kramer & Gayl Underwood
1999 - Peter A. Towne
1998 - Frank Pfirman
1997 - Neil Cohen, Henry Sester & Ron Smith
1987 - Bob Lippert
1986 - Harold McMullen
1985 - Bill Wilks
1984 - Jay & Carolyn Antenen
1983 - Jack Horn
1982 - Joe Williams
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