Friday, May 1, 2009

Bridging the gap

Since I seem to be on a kick about categories and types of knitters, let’s go ahead and talk about not just the one, but the two big ol’ elephants in the room with us. Well, I’ll mention both, but I’ve really got the one on my mind today.
Box stores vs. LYS . . . and . . . acrylics vs. natural fibers.
No, they’re not the same subject at all, but one often flavors any discussion of the other. Box stores (JoAnn’s, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, AC Moore and others) simply don’t have the selection of natural fiber yarns, if they have any at all. Just aisle after aisle of acrylics for as far as the eye can see. Your LYS (Local Yarn Store), conversely, doesn’t typically carry many acrylics, if any at all.
So their first differences are fiber choices and the closely related price ranges.
They also differ in customer service.
The box store ain’t got none. The LYS staff, however, will be extremely in-the-know and are readily available – but there’s a rub to this, and it’s the one that I’ve heard grumbled about by box store shoppers. I even made the same grumbles myself, before I saw it for what it is. It’s a misunderstood thing, really, so let’s look at that.
I am going somewhere with this, so stick with me for the praising I’m going to do at the end of this.
Box store shoppers complain that LYS staff are snobby – there, I’ve said it. Now, I’m going to say this; that is unfairly generalized, even though some specific LYS haven’t helped that misconception by being, well, snobby.
Here’s the thing, shop owners are not big with a massive corporation behind them. They’re small business owners who took a whopping amount of courage to try to make a living in something we’re all passionate about. Gawd, wouldn’t you if given half a chance??? Their income is going to look a lot different from Wal-Mart’s or Michaels. They’re not only selling products, but lessons too. And that right there – boom! – is where the misunderstandings come into play.
If you bought the yarn or pattern there, of course you can expect help from them. If you didn’t, and you just wandered in asking for explanations and help, without spending a dime . . . maybe it ain’t their behavior that should be examined and criticized, huh? Seriously, who’s being selfish here? You’re asking them to just give you the knowledge that folks are paying good money to learn in classes.
Right or wrong, there it is (I have thoughts on this too, but they can wait).
So, what’s the answer? For years, some knitters have adapted to LYS etiquette, further dividing them from their box store shopping cousins. So that ain’t an answer.
I’ve seen some of the box stores around here try to bridge that gap between the two demographics by offering some natural fiber yarns. But even with those efforts by them, it’s not enough. The selection still sucks and the staff is even more sparse, with the current state of the economy.
Now here is the bragging and praising part: my favorite LYS is the Yarn Haven on Cedar Bluff Rd. The owner, Sandy, has made some business model choices that address these issues, and she started her shop this way from the get go. She offers a wider price range than the stereotype while still stocking just the good stuff. Box stores sell affordable crap. She sells affordable treasures!
And she’s done another very simple thing, that if others before her had done it, it would’ve eliminated those stereotypes. There’s a sign on the wall stating that they’re happy to give knitting advice/help for a few minutes, but will have to charge for anything beyond that. It ain’t worded like that, but that’s the upshot. And it’s brilliant!
The stereotype wasn’t really from not getting help, but from not getting any explanation as to why the help wasn’t just given freely. See? It was just a misunderstanding.
Back to those price ranges; Sandy gets that too. I’ve heard her encourage folks with the little knitting secret that ain’t so secret anymore – knit something small that only takes one skein, and then you can indulge in really yummy yarns. Ten hanks of something for a sweater will take a small bank loan at any retailer or merchant. However, if you’re only buying one . . . go all out and get the good stuff! Try a wool + silk blend just once, and see if you don’t swear off acrylics forever more!
I’m a student these days, leaving us with just hubby’s income until I get my new career started. That was my yarn money I gave up, when I quit my last job. There were days when I only had the one 20 dollar bill to spare for yarny things. Yet, I can take that 20 into her shop, and come away with the biggest grin on my face, giggling all the way to my car. That would never have happened in some other stores in the past.
When Sandy brought the Yarn Haven to our town, she successfully bridged the gap between the knitterly demographics, blessing knitters in all camps.
And before you go feeling sorry for my yarn budget, I’m subsisting on a very respectable stash built up during my working days, lol. No worries. A little truism noted here: you either have time or money in this life, but rarely both at the same time. This is the second time I’ve done the stay-at-home phase after a working-my-ass-off phase. While working, I’m stocking up on books and yarn, but have no time to read or knit. Funny how those phases in my life are followed by ones in which I have the time to consume my stockpile. Kinda like the growing seasons being followed by winters of long nights in which to do things like reading and knitting and spinning and listening and talking and thinking . . .
But just guess where I’m headed, once my new career is up and running? Go ahead, guess! It’s not only springtime on the calendar, it’s another springtime in my life, and it’s time to prepare for the next round of growth (career growth = fiber stash growth!).

Quoting my favorite author, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, “Life is short – knit fast!”

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