The storefront of local yarn shop, Olives and Bananas, in Thunder Bay, ON. Photo by Amy Vervoort
Almost every industry has seen a recent boom in marketing and promotion regarding the importance of shopping locally and supporting small businesses. Business associations, municipalities, and industry boards have all been publicly sponsoring “shop local” messages to help ensure the survival of small locally-owned businesses, and local yarn shops (LYS for short) are no exception. From National Local Yarn Shop Day to the UK’s newest “shop hopping” rewards scheme, people are catching on that if we don’t support our local yarn shop, we may soon lose this valuable resource.
Owning a brick and mortar shop has always been a challenging livelihood, and in the era of e-commerce it’s even trickier. They now must compete with the draw of the convenience of shopping 24/7 from the comfort of one’s home without having to deal with weather, traffic, or crowds. Yet, in the era of social media, even brick and mortars are expected to post on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram daily as part of their marketing strategy, and many shops often sell online as well to broaden their customer base. This stretches shop owners’ time thin. And don’t forget how the Internet has compounded the amount of communications coming in - not only do shop owners need to communicate face to face, deal with lettermail, and take phone calls, but they also must answer emails, texts, private messages on social media, and monitor and respond to comments on their social media posts. It’s like running two full time businesses.
A treasure trove of yarns and samples await in the LYS. Photo by Amy Vervoort.
Of course you can find a bounty of yarn, tools, and patterns in your LYS (and ‘yarn’ doesn’t even begin to cover it – most now also sell spinning, felting, and other fiber arts supplies). But it’s the services that really set them apart from their digital counterparts. Things like:
Advice: help with choosing the best yarn for your pattern (or vice versa)
Help: when you get stuck on your pattern you can get hands on help (often for free!)
An homage to slow living: local yarn shops have replaced the General Store as the gathering place, where you go not only to buy your goods but also to chat with the owner and the acquaintances you know you’ll run into there
Connection: the value of face to face contact with shop owners and other customers is something that just can’t be replaced by online platforms
Accuracy: choosing coordinating colors online is a gamble, with how much monitors can vary. If you’re looking for coordinating skeins for a project nothing beats laying out a mountain of skeins and comparing them side by side
Skein winding: not everyone owns a skein winder and swift as they can be pricey. Your LYS can take the hassle out of winding your beautiful skeins into balls ready to work with
Local selections: your local fiber arts store is the place to find locally handspun or indie dyed yarns
Socializing: most shops host some sort of regular sit and stitch sessions on a weekly basis where you can work on your project and connect with like-minded people
Inspiration: many stores create and collect samples of projects made from their yarns, and there have been many times I’ve been inspired to create something I might not otherwise have noticed in a pattern book. It’s also fun to see a variety of color schemes that may be outside of your normal range.
Education: most fiber arts stores offer a variety of classes, from beginner knitting to advanced techniques such as lace and cables, as well as crochet, spinning, and felting
New products: you may discover a new yarn or pattern line being featured by the shop that you otherwise would not have found
Quality: you’re more likely to find a range of yarns that are top quality, focused on expert dyeing, natural fibers, and perhaps breed-specific wools that will wear well and look fantastic for many years.
Swatches: many shops create swatches so you can see and feel the fabric and colorplay when the yarn is worked up.
Sensory: you can’t touch or smoosh yarn online to see how much bounce or stretch it has, or whether it’s soft enough to be worn next to skin by your sensitive five year old!
Immediacy: whether it’s because you’ve run out of yarn on the last row of your project or you just don’t like to wait once inspiration hits, the yarn in a local shop is ready and waiting for you to work with right now.
Staging: nowhere else can you show off your latest creation to such a receptive and admiring audience!
Economic returns: when you support a local yarn shop, they in turn can support other small businesses, community groups, schools, etc. A local economy is circular and needs to be fed into regularly (that’s my excuse for buying new yarn!).
All of these create an immeasurable VALUE that you cannot place a price on, which are definitely worth paying an extra dollar or two on that yarn for. If we don’t support them we lose all of the above-mentioned resources.
A selection of locally handspun and hand-dyed yarns, locally made project bags, and yarn milled from locally raised rescue goats. Photo by Amy Vervoort.
Many shops have a cozy nook, or at least a table, for people to gather and work on projects. This shop has toys to entertain the children so their parents can shop, craft, or socialize. Photo by Amy Vervoort.
How to help:
Enhance your stash. Pop into your local fiber arts shop to see what inspires you - regularly!
Take a class. Learn a new craft dimension, like spinning, knitting, crochet or felting.
Share their social media posts.
Tag them in your social media posts when you’re sharing projects made from yarn or patterns purchased there.
Spread the craft and create future customers!
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