If you follow either Peggy or me on Facebook or Instagram, you will know that we spent 6 glorious days in New York City during May. The purpose for going was three fold - getting to see Peggy's cousin Keven Ligon on Broadway again, doing our very own yarn crawl and getting out of town for a fun girls weekend. The trip was completely successful on all fronts! I'll talk about Keven's great new play and our fun time some other time. For now I want to talk about yarn stores.
Between this trip and our last trip to New York in 2012, we have visited every yarn store in Manhattan and three in Brooklyn. It's possible that a yarn store has opened in the last couple of years that we aren't aware of so I'm not guaranteeing we hit every last one but that was our fervent goal. We missed visiting Schoolhouse Yarns because they were in the middle of moving locations. We heard that String Yarns was bought by someone new and we didn't re-visit them although we did stop by Habu for a second time because we love their yarns so much. I'm not sure what the total is but we shopped at more yarn stores on our first trip that we did on this one and this time we managed to see nine. That's a lot of yarn stores.
Yarn stores in New York tend to be very small with very tight quarters. No store we visited was as large and roomy as our favorite local yarn store, Yarntopia, in Katy, TX or our favorite out of town yarn store, Knit 1 Oxford, in Oxford, MS. In general we saw great use of space and an ability to be welcoming and efficient in a space not hardly big enough to cuss a cat.
Based on shopping in something over 20 yarn stores, here are some of our thoughts on yarn stores...
1. Cleanliness. If you walk out of a yarn store and feel like you need to not only wash your hands but take a shower and change clothes - that's a bad thing. We saw a couple of stores that fit into this category. Floors need to be mopped, swept, scrubbed and/or vacuumed on a regular basis. Dusting is a good idea and tables need to be wiped down periodically. I'm sure getting your outside windows washed when you're on the fifth floor of a high-rise is harder than if you're on the first floor of a strip center but the insides at least should be clean.
2. Clutter. All great yarn stores carry lots and lots of different things so some clutter is unavoidable but when the clutter takes over the store it can be frustrating and just a bit creepy. There should be some horizontal space next to the cash register where you can pile up your great finds while you're looking for more things to love. There should be horizontal spaces for you to look at pattern books and check your yarn choices. Having sale yarns in a big basket is all well and good but having plastic milk crates full of yarn scattered willy nilly about is a huge trip hazard and should be avoided. You should be able to find what you're looking for without having to paw through huge piles of last year's yarns.
3. Stocked or Overstocked? The yarn shouldn't be packed into the shelves so tightly that you can't get a skein out without pulling several other skeins out along with it or tearing the tags off of random skeins. It's important to have some of each color on display so I know what my options are but every single skein of that yarn does not need to be crammed into the cubbie.
4. Samples. Having samples of your patterns and your yarn can make all the difference in whether I purchase a project or not. I am not driven to get the pattern in exactly the same yarn as the sample, even down to the color, but seeing it knitted up gives me the perfect visual of what I'm aiming for. It can help me decide not to take on a specific project but more often it makes the project more accessible and more possible. Don't forgo samples because it's difficult to get them done or it takes time to make them.
5. Knowledgeable Staff. You don't need to have every skein of each and every color out on display but you do need the staff to know what's in the back, where the yarn is for which sample, what's on sale, what's on the website or in the blog and where is this pattern. The second best situation is one in which the staff member will say “Gee, I'm so sorry. I don't know but give me just a minute and I'll find out.” When the response to your question is an odd wave in the direction of a huge pile of pattern books, or an unclimbable mountain of yarn you may want to move on to another yarn shop.
6. Friendliness and Welcoming Attitude. Nothing is more welcoming than a cheerful greeting when you walk in the door of a yarn shop. It shouldn't have anything to do with whether you've been there before or not, whether you are a big supporter of the yarn shop or not, whether you're a local or a visitor from out of town. Someone who can be available for my questions and notices when I look confused, especially interested or unsure is also a huge help. Even questions like “Are you doing OK?” which drive me crazy from my waiter are helpful and supportive from the staff in a yarn store.
7. Lighting. When we are operating out of a booth at a fiber festival, we often encourage our customers to take our yarn outside and look at it in natural light. We do have lights in our booth but it's hard to keep everything as well lit as it should be. A store is different. There needs to be light. Natural light from large windows is great but if it's not there the shop owner needs to provide it. Most of the yarn shops in New York are long and thin, often with windows only at the front of the store and at the back. Adding good lighting is important.
8. A Place to Sit. Yarn shops often have a table and chairs set up or a sofa and some chairs so people can come in and sit and knit. Most often these are used by regulars who come in often. These groups are generally not as welcoming as the shop owner needs to be. Several chairs scattered around the shop can really help those of us who aren't going to spend hours there with a group but just need a bit of a rest while we shop. We spend more money when we can sit and contemplate a bit.
9. Temperature. Most of the yarn stores I frequent on a regular basis keep the temperature at a comfortable level. We found most New York yarn stores too warm. That may be a regional thing. Those of us in the south know how to crank up the AC to keep things cool. New Yorkers with much less summer don't seem to understand.
10. Window Displays. Not one of the yarn stores we visited in New York had a window display that I remember. If it were up to me, I would certainly plan one that's pleasant rather than obnoxious but I don't think it really makes that much difference. The locals know what is there so probably don't pay much attention while the out-of-towners are not likely to be turned away by anything short of disgusting. I love creative window displays but being welcoming has much more significance.
11. Organization. I don't think it matters very much how a yarn store is organized as long as it is organized in some way. Arranging the yarn by weight makes the most sense to me but I can find what I need if it's arranged by color or brand. What drives me crazy is no organization at all. Or maybe organizing by how the shipments arrived. That's just nuts. There needs to be a plan or I will give up and move on to a different store.
We visited yarn shops in New York that we will never go back to and others that were charming and friendly. Habu has moved from a small shop to a closet but it was welcoming and delightful and even had a stool to sit on. Purl Soho had no chairs but was wonderful with happy helpful people, no clutter and a bit of everything fiber/yarn related. Downtown Yarns was a bit warm but was quirky and wonderful with fabulous samples and a brilliant use of very little space. La Casita Yarns in Brooklyn had plenty of places to sit, was a bit too warm but charming and friendly. We thought the coffee bar in the back would be perfect but we didn't stop shopping long enough to have a cup. Argyle Yarns in Brooklyn was the closest to the look of yarn shops here - more room, a great table and chairs in the back, lovely samples.
I had occasion to call Downtown Yarns not long after we got home. I bought some yarn there and I know I had something in mind for it but couldn't remember what. Bless Neti who remembered the two ladies from Texas and sent me the pattern I had neglected to pick up while we were there. You have to love that level of service.