Wednesday, Oct. 14, 1998 | 9:44 a.m.
"I'm addicted," Brandie Sarbacker says. "I've already worked through '95, '96 and '97 (photos) and I'm almost done with '98."
A "stay-at-home mom," Sarbacker is shopping for her next scrapbook project, stickers, paper and other craft paraphernalia swinging from a basket on her arm. She's planning a scrapbook for her husband as a Christmas gift.
"I have a picture of him painting his (race) car and I go from there," she says. "I'm working on one for my daughter, but I don't know how far I'll go into her life. That will depend on the book and the pictures."
Her addiction is fed by four niche stores in the Las Vegas valley that cater to preserving the past in a creative and not-too-costly manner. All those newspaper clippings and photos stacked in your closet and drawers -- of junior's big game, wedding announcements, family outing photos -- now have a place to go to be preserved.
The old-fashioned craft of "scrapbooking" -- as aficionados call it -- is not only making a cultural resurgence, but making its mark in the business market as well. Scrapbook stores in Las Vegas have doubled in the last two years.
"When we started, there were only seven stores in the nation," says James Ruesch, co-owner with his wife, Michelle, of The Scrapbook Patch in Las Vegas. "We had to really search hard for product."
Nationally, scrapbooks have grown to a $250 million market, and Ruesch has consulted for more than 75 scrapbook businesses. "We didn't expect it to blossom as quickly as it did," he says. The Rueschs' first location opened in August 1996 and a second opened this year in Green Valley.
The Rueschs began the business as a "hobby-type business for my wife," James Ruesch says, adding that he was surprised at the growth of the market. "It is currently the fastest-growing craft in the United States," he says.
Debbie Moyer, manager of the Las Vegas branch of Memories, one of eight stores in a national chain, says that the future looks good for scrapbook store growth. "There's room for more stores in town," she says, "mostly because people don't want to have to drive far."
The surge in scrapbook popularity may be a sign of the times.
"We went through the materialistic '80s and '90s and people realize that didn't make them happy," James Ruesch says. "People are settling down now." Most of the clientele are women aged 25 to 50, new mothers and grandmothers looking to put it all down on paper.
Another reason for its popularity, he says, is that customers find they are more creative than they thought they were, given all the materials that are available to aid those lacking great creativity.
"They come in and realize that they are talented, they are 'crafty,' " Ruesch says. "They use the scissoring and stickers and create nice memories for their family."
The craft is not costly, ranging from $20 to $40 per project. "Here they can do whatever they imagine," Moyers says.
The front of the single room Memories store is reserved for classes, from beginners arriving with photos in hand to experienced "scrappers" loaded with books, fabrics and possibilities.
Scrappers have become more conservative with space, she says, whittling down the number of repetitive pictures in favor of that one great shot with lots of colorful, creative touches that Mom can add to make the captured moment more personal than just a photograph.
Customers wander between rows of colored paper, rolls of stickers, scissors that cut elegant edges and glue, both sparkly and the regular type.
Sarbacker began scrapping last February when she attended a scrapbook workshop at a friend's house. The books give her a sense of pride when she is finished, as well as a glimpse of life as it was, carrying memories to her children that they may have forgotten. The projects take a few months to complete.
"Everybody looks at them and comments," she says. "It's an accomplishment."
Jill Painter, a homemaker, has been scrapping for six years. "I wasn't finding this kind of stuff anywhere else (in Las Vegas) before," she says.
Painter had been driving to Utah to satisfy her need for various scrapbook tools and is glad to finally have local variety, not only in the merchandise, but among stores from which to choose.
"They all have different things," she says. "It's kind of a hobby." Her 6-year-old daughter is beginning to help out, putting stickers on photos. "It's nice to look back and have the memories," she says. "It can be a personal history, a memento of your life."
Painter recently revamped her husband's scrapbook of his experiences out of the country for two years. "He did it, but I had to re-do it because he used (materials) that wouldn't (preserve photos)," she says, adding that it was yellowing.
"You have to use the good stuff so it doesn't get ruined," Painter says, noting that certain tapes, papers and techniques are used for that purpose. "It all has to be acid-free."
The latest scrapbook store to open locally, The Memory Tree, is a husband-and-wife-run business, just about to celebrate its one-year anniversary.
Co-owner Suzanne Prince works full-time as a registered nurse and husband Kevin is a physician at University Medical Center. Suzanne Prince had been scrapping with her sister for years, buying most of their supplies from scrapbook stores in St. George, Utah.
"We couldn't get enough," Suzanne Prince says, adding that Las Vegas had little from which to choose.
"I had always wanted my own business and this was perfect," she says, explaining that it combined her love of the craft with a chance at the American dream of owning her own business -- and increasing the Las Vegas scrapbook market. "We're amazed at the explosion," she says, emphasizing the need to give customers choices.
"Every child's life story is different and calls for different choices. There is just so much out there, a lot of new memory magazines ... software... there are new things coming on line all the time. We can't keep up."
She adds: "I really hope the big chains don't come in and take over. You'd lose the personal service."
But it may be inevitable. "There is a short window of opportunity for small businesses," Ruesch says. "Once the market is built up by Mom and Pop, the big stores can come in and carry more."
The personal touch, Suzanne Prince says, is what scrapping is about. "Everybody takes pictures, everybody wants to preserve the past," she says.
Her 6-year-old daughter has just begun a book of her own.