Yo, yarn, where art thou?! January 26, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: knitting trends, yarn, yarn shops
Silence Dogood here. Our good friend Delilah, knowing what a knitting fiend I am, asked me to keep an eye out for some ragg wool yarn next time I was out visiting one of my favorite yarn shops. As if. Not that I wouldn’t be delighted to find ragg wool yarn for Delilah. The trouble is finding a yarn shop around here.
It wasn’t always this way. Even here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, where our friend Ben and I live, there were three superb yarn shops within relatively easy driving distance: one in Kutztown, a mere ten minutes from us, one in Emmaus, a half-hour drive, and one in Bethlehem, about 45 minutes from here when the wretched highway isn’t jammed to a standstill.
All these shops carried really gorgeous yarns, many handmade, and an extensive selection. They also carried beautiful needles (many also handmade) and supplies and offered knitting classes and informal knitting circles. Every time I went, the shops were full of cheerful knitters shopping, chatting, and knitting.
But with the closure of the Bethlehem shop this month, I’m at a loss as to where to go for good yarn. I’m also at a loss to explain what happened to these shops. (Believe it or not, the one in Emmaus became a gun shop!) Knitting experienced such an explosive resurgence in the 21st century among all age groups, but especially twentysomethings, that I’d have thought yarn shops would be booming.
The shop in Emmaus had been there for decades, the one in Bethlehem for at least a decade. Owners of both shops said they were closing because they were retiring. Well, why didn’t they sell their stock and business to someone who would carry on? The shop in Kutztown, a small college town, was only open for a couple of years, run by an enthusiastic young woman who clearly hoped to tap into the knitting resurgence.
What happened? Was everybody in this great knitting resurgence buying acrylic yarn at Wal-Mart? I think not. Instead, I suspect two factors are at the heart of yarn-store closures. One is the Great Recession. Gorgeous, handmade, hand-dyed, real-fiber yarns aren’t cheap, to say the least. Buying four or more skeins of these yarns to make a scarf, as I do, can set you back $60, or even (considerably) more. And we’re not talking about a sweater, shawl, or throw here. That’s a luxury at any time, but an impossibility when times are hard. I don’t know about anybody else, but I stock up on fabulous yarn when I have the money and draw from my stash when I don’t.
The other factor is the internet. Today’s knitters were raised with the internet and are completely at home with internet shopping. I checked out the most recent yarn I’d bought—Moonlight Mohair in Rainforest—and it was $2 less a skein online than I’d paid for it, though I noted with horror the unspeakable shipping costs of $4.66 a skein that more than offset the savings. However, high-end yarn is definitely out there at the push of a button.
I myself love seeing and touching the wealth of yarns in a shop, holding them to the light, comparing them. Yes, I’m a sucker for Amazon, but it can’t compare to a bookstore experience, where you can discover all sorts of books you’d never find if you didn’t stumble upon them. Not that I’m dissing Amazon by any means! It’s the greatest if you already know what you want. But if you shop online exclusively, you’ll never know what you’re missing, because you simply won’t see it. I enjoy the thrill of discovery a brick-and-mortar store offers, and the breadth of offerings (not to mention discounts) the internet offers. For me, they’re complementary, not a one-or-the-other kind of thing.
Maybe there’s another explanation I’m not seeing, but I think that, as with so many actual stores in the virtual age, the overhead combined with the recession has been killing. Today’s knitters still see knitting as a communal activity, but rather than clustering in the back of a store after hours, they’d rather get together in each others’ homes or go on a knitting retreat or splurge on a knitting cruise with their stitch-and-bitch buds. Who wouldn’t?
I’ll still keep an eye out for that ragg wool yarn, but it may be a while before I find another yarn store. Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering, apparently you can find ragg wool yarn on Etsy and eBay…
‘Til next time,