Wednesday, May 29, 2013

saving the world, one yarn shop at a time

We all find ourselves making decisions these days--for financial and ethical reasons. Whether food or shoes, we are thinking differently about what we buy, how much we buy, and where we buy it.

So, with this in mind, I'd like to share a sad story with you.

I was recently in a wonderful yarn shop (doesn't matter where). I spoke to the owner about what fabulous yarn she had, and she shared with me a not unfamiliar story . . .  that there are a significant number of customers who enter, fondle, leave, and buy the same yarn elsewhere--for a few dollars less.

So these were not people who had to buy online (those poor souls who do not live near yarn shop): these were people who
  1. wanted access to the yarn shop so they could check out the yarn but
  2. chose to buy it online for a reduced price.
I understand stretching dollars when times are tough. But we need to think long and hard about how we are doing this. Are we doing so in such a way that we undermine and threaten the viability of a much-needed business?

When we buy from a local yarn shop, we are supporting one of our community's entrepreneurs. And everyone tells us that the solution to economic growth is small business. These shops are essential to the well-being of our communities.

In addition, I will share with you some thoughts from The Watchman's Rattle. This is a book that lists the beliefs that hold us back from solving our problems. One of these beliefs is extreme business practices, which she defines as
  • the need for profit
  • the need for speed and efficiency.
When these, above all, are our motives, other important concerns can fall by the wayside.

So, to solve our problems and to save civilization as we know it,  we need to reject the need for profit and reject the need for speed for their own sakes. Neither of these will help us solve the huge issues that keep us awake at night.

Well . . . knitters are role models for this behavior! Given how expensive knitting is, nothing we do  can be done for the profit motive! Given how labour-intensive knitting is, nothing we do can be done for expediency! We should be rewarded for our rejection of business practices that don't serve the world!

(I would also guess that anyone who reads a blog about knitting is a role model for this behavior, so I am likely preaching to the choir??)

In addition, we could probably agree that pretty-much everything of value executed by human beings (art, family time, music, solutions to climate change, architecture, volunteer work) is, or will be, done without profit or efficiency as motivating factors.

So, back to the LYS. We absolutely must reject the need to go elsewhere to save a few dollars!!! The profit motive that drives us to do so might not be good role-modelling and does not serve us, our craft, our communities, our civilization.

Again, those ethical considerations we bring to bear on everything else we buy should be turned to knitting. Buy less? But buy local!


  1. All knitters should walk a mile in a LYS owner's shoes. Only then will they understand the impact of their actions.
    Once again, Thanks for sharing you thoughts with us.

  2. I guess it's the old "walk a mile in their shoes."
    I know I couldn't do it: retail would do me in.
    And Cat Bordhi makes a good point on this subject with respect to social media. She insists that we must be aware that one bad comment overrides 100 positive ones. I
    t is SO EASY to be critical, but the effects are not easily undone and can be devastating.
    Again, knitting and life go hand-in-hand!

  3. I frequent a wonderful LYS whose owner has encouraged me to dye yarn for her to sell, and also provides a wonderful open knitting venue. I invite all to visit and support your LYS, Mine is SPIN in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Thank You, Sally, for posting about this subject.

  4. Thanks for reminding us to support our local economy and neighbors. I think it's easy to be broad minded when we're watching the politicians and pundits debating this and that, and easy to forget that we are the ones spending our dollars and we chose where and how we do that. Supporting our LYS is an important thing we, as citizens and knitters, can do for our towns, local economies, and craft! Think Local!!!

  5. Good yarn shops also educate knitters, create a very real sense of community among their customers, inspire us and keep us enthusiastic about the craft. I shall go to one forthwith. (;

  6. This is a great post! I just wrote something similar though less eloquent a week or so ago so I have all the love for this. It is fun to get a bargain, but I wish more people would think about the invisible costs of those "bargains".

  7. Wonderful post. Think Local, Buy Local!!!! My FABULOUS LYS owner is Peggy Baddour, The Salty Sheep Yarn Shop, Swansboro, NC. Whether you are local or passing through on vacation, you get friendly personal attention and encouragement. The minute you walk in the door you hear knitting and crocheting angels calling your name.

  8. Buy less and buy local is a great motto to have. I make a point to buy something whenever I go to a local yarn shop, wherever I happen to be.

  9. I have bought yarn online, although I prefer not to. So let me say that I wish I had a local yarn shop to buy it there. I love to feel the yarn, look at it in person. I have to travel quite a ways to do this, and when I do I want everything I see in the shoppe!!!! I would love to go there and takes some lessons or to help me when I am stuck on something, or refrain from trying because there is no help. I love to Knit and Crochet.

    Whenever I am out for a drive having some time off, I have an app on my phone to "find yarn stores" in areas that I visit. I love to explore different yarn shops and I will ALWAYS, buy local to support a community, I just wish I had a yarn shop by me....then I would NEVER buy online.

  10. Well said Sally. Our local yarn shops provide more than a just a great place to see and buy yarn. They offer classes to enhance our skills, gatherings of knitters and crocheters, introductions to new yarns and samples of what many of these yarns look like when worked up. Buy local, yes. Support your LYS with your buying dollars before they are forced to close their doors because they can't afford to keep them open. Again, well said Sally.

  11. There have been so many wonderful responses that I don't want to inundate you by answering each one. Just let me say that your responses are intelligent and heart-warming, and I wish all the yarn shops out there could read what you are saying.

    Goodonya, folks!

  12. Think globally act locally

  13. If it's purely a matter of $$ for you, consult with the yarn store owner. They may be able to meet your price point, or at least come a little closer. They might also be willing to order what they don't have in the shop, especially if it's from a vendor they deal with anyway. Regardless, they are always grateful that you consider them.

    I love a good bargain on yarn as much as the next knitter, and I shop online, too, but if we don't support our local yarn stores, they will disappear.

  14. It frustrates me when people view the yarn in a store and then buy it online.

    Don't they realize that if they don't support the store they won't be able to see the yarn anymore? Or get help with a project?

    And, as others have said, they are resources for help, classes, etc.

  15. I will say this - I do wish that my LYS carried some of the less expensive yarns in general. I have a tight budget and can't spend money on luxury yarns, but I would be happy to pay a little more for "regular" yarns at a LYS, but when I'm not spending $30 a skein, my LYS doesn't have the options available.

    I do buy all of my needles there though.

    I guess I should be telling her that rather than sounding off online : )

  16. Thank you so much for this post! I have a small yarnshop in a village in Holland and I have the same problem. Don't forget that a yarnshop owner also helps with finding the right pattern or yarn, picking up fallen stitches, giving ideas and examples, admiring your finished project and so on (at least I do...).
    And webshop-owners don't have all the costs of a "real" shop and they do not order that special colour only for you (I do!!).

    Greetings from Holland!


  17. I shop online, but I also frequent local yarn shops and buy from them on a regular basis. Except for sales, they are competitive with the online shops. I hate to see a good yarn shop go out of business because it doesn't get support from its local fiber community, as has happened far too often in our area.

  18. I always check my local shop first. And I have a ton of yarn at my house from her shop. But my local shop is 1 hour from my house and I am finding that it is still less expensive to purchase on line then to drive into the city to purchase yarn. Gas is just too expensive not to consider all options.
    But I love my Gina Brown's and would truly hate to see it close after being one of the oldest yarn shops in Calgary. Dianne is awesome and her staff are just as good. I always try and go there when I'm in the city. C-A Drummond

  19. Can someone help me? I'm having trouble understanding how the need for profit is an *extreme* business practice. Without profit, no business can continue. I'm totally on board with buying local and patronizing your LYS so that they'll be around next week and next year, but they need to be able to make a living at it and that living is derived from profit. What am I missing?

    1. Hi Marcy,
      The term "extreme" is not mine: it came from the book THE WATCHMAN'S RATTLE. And I think she was speaking of the need for profit as extreme when it is at the expense of everything else.

      It reminds me of when a company goes public, and so accountability to share holders is the only motive. People are laid off, businesses are sent overseas, etc. Anything that can get the price of the commodity down and the profit up is seen as a good thing. This is a "value" that can be seen as extreme.

      Profit it itself is not extreme, and I'm sorry if I made it sound that way. As you can imagine, it's difficult to distill concepts into a few sentences in a blog post. But I hope I've explained this?

      Thanks for asking.

  20. Barb Northern Alberta CanadaMay 30, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    I too am like "Anonymous" I have to buy online only because there is no local yarn shop. I'd prefer to buy in a shop, to be able to see and feel the yard and to have it now rather than wait 10 days for delivery. When I go on holidays I stock up or I'll even phone friends or family (who live near a LYS) to buy me something specific and mail it to me. I cannot stress how important it is not only to shop locally but also to support small business. I owned a small flower shop and had to close down because people were buying from large grocery or bulk stores (much cheaper) So support you local yarn shop and small business.

  21. I only buy online when I can get a really, really good deal that enables me to do a project I wouldn't normally be able to afford. For example, yarn online that is regularly $9/skein (might be $10 at the LYS) on sale for $3 and I need 11 skeins of it. Those have been rare. Otherwise, I shop at the LYS where my step-mother-in-law works. They even take Joann's coupons! :)

  22. I have very specific rules about yarn purchasing.
    1. If it is available in my local yarn shop I will not buy it anywhere else for any other price (unless their is a really really serious emergency and so far there hasn't been one).
    2. I will not buy yarn at a festival that I can buy in a yarn shop. I only buy things there that I can only get there. (This has served me very well because it makes me find wonderful stuff.)
    3. When I visit other local yarn stores in other places, I ask if they have anything locally produced.
    4. I am allowed to buy anything I want (without violating rule 1) at any other yarn shop as long as it is on a really good sale.

    Believe me--my stash hasn't suffered!

  23. Oops--I forgot one.
    5. If I need to order online, I try to order from a local yarn shop that does mail order rather than ordering from a big company.

  24. Sigh....I feel guilty reading this article and your comments, but I never would have rekindled my love of knitting if it weren't for Ravelry and online yarn shopping. I've never had the greatest experience at a LYS--there were times I couldn't get help at all, or was steered toward yarn that would cost me $300 for a project I wasn't even sure I would finish, let alone like. Then I felt embarrassed asking for something a little more economical. Of course, maybe I was just going to the wrong LYS. I'm sure that a friendly, knowledgable LYS is wonderful, but don't discount online shopping. I've ordered from large web sites, but also from tiny sellers who can only afford to have an online presence. And I get tons of help on Ravelry. Online is the future of knitting supplies. Just my 2 cents.

  25. I'm all for the local yarn shops as well, and I buy from them frequently, but sometimes it gets to me when a shop will charge up to $40 per hour for 'help' or some such thing along the lines of instruction. By the time you purchase $75 worth of yarn, a pattern, and get a bit of instruction, it can be way more than a budget can handle. Sometimes seems that everything is about profits and not for the love of the craft. And if we can't afford it we're embarassed to ask for help. I'm so grateful for all the wonderful teachers on Youtube!
    Just sayin...

  26. I, too, am a huge fan of online. I love RAVELRY (which provides a huge service to LYS's--patterns they can download, yarns they can check out, access to a community), I love the option of mail order (from wonderful shops like WEBS and YARN BARN and others I don't know as well--real yarn shops who also provide a much-needed service to people who don't have a LYS), and I plan to put videos of my classes online (because I keep getting asked to do so by people who cannot attend a class or who have taken one and want a record). I even hope to do another online sale of garments (things I have knit but don't have space for). What a great way to reach a large audience! We should all be grateful for all of these things.

    And I know there are yarn shops don't serve everyone's needs: no single retailer of any kind can?

    What I am speaking to is a very specific and--we hope--very limited situation . . . where someone deliberately checks out something in a LYS but buys it elsewhere for a few dollars less.

    As you note, we are lucky to have options. I'm just suggesting we bring a little consciousness to bear when we choose one?

    And speaking of consciousness, it's great that we are having such a lively discussion!

  27. This post is silly

    1-EVERY business has the obligation to make money, otherwise it's a non profit(aka charity) the question is not dies profit matter? Nor should the answer be that profit should not matter. It does and it should. The question should be what are the practices of this business and what are the priorities

    2- local does not mean small. When I lived in nj, my local yarn shop was michaels

    3- online dies not mean big. I have my online business, and buy most of my supplies from other small business owners.
    But if I were to take your advice I would stop supporting one woman and two person shops and go to michaels instead.

    4- the priority should not be vicinity but size and business practices.

    5- articles like this misinform customers about what it means to be an small online seller. We are small business. We are stay at home moms and dads, we work long hours for low pay, but we are not greedy, lazy corporations who only care about the bottom line.

  28. I appreciate your writing and your position. But with all due respect, I think we are talking about apples and bananas.

    I'm only talking about a very specific situation: someone fondles yarn in a LYS (definitely not MICHAELS) and buys it elsewhere--from someone who can sell it more cheaply because he or she does not pay overhead. This is someone who wants that yarn shop in place but does not support it.

    This is very different from the service you, and other valid online businesses, provide.

    We are in absolute agreement that choices should be made upon business practices and priorities. That's all I'm saying--with a nod to a very interesting book that challenges basic assumptions.

    Never a bad idea to do that once in a while.
    Thanks for writing.

  29. Great discussions! I also for one who believes in supporting LYSs. Here in Victoria, we are lucky to have a few beautiful ones. However, I do shop online, a lot, chiefly for the prices but also for the variety we don’t always have here. Moreover, I don’t feel the pressure to purchase right away when shopping online. Not that the staff in my LYS pressure me in any way, but I the staff pretty well and sometimes I get a little too impulsive when I'm there.

    Checking out the yarn in a LYS and then by them online may seem distasteful, but I think it’s na├»ve for shop owners or us to expect this could/should be avoidable, given the reality that all conventional shops have to face as soon as the online shops exist. Good business means being flexible and responsive to reality. I think long term survival of LYSs depends on more than ethical shoppers, but on whole a lot of factors including providing competitive prices, improving services, cultivating the environment that makes shoppers want to keep coming back. Thank goodness, I think all the LYS in my city are doing just that.

  30. I love my two lys also, i love the colors and the textures and the ideas i get. but i have 2 issues. 1, i am a crocheter as well as knitter and there is a lot of bias apparently for crochet. its just not as favored. and the other is price. $2 a skein less on line is significant.

  31. I love shopping locally. That being said, our LYS is starting to price themselves out of the market! I was researching it some and many of their yarns are $4 more than I can buy it online for. That's significant. Especially is you tend to buy many skeins at a time. While I do buy a few things at my LYS, I mostly use them for classes these days and buy yarn online.

    I also like the huge variety I get online. I like to shop on etsy because I love the indie dyed yarns that I've found. You just can't get those at your LYS.

  32. I agree with everyone's comments about the importance of shopping locally and supporting small businesses. But when I took up knitting as an adult, I had to train myself to actually go to the LYS (and we have a number of fine ones in my area).

    Why? Because my mother, who was an avid needleworker, and grew up during the Great Depression, wouldn't set foot in one. We even had one less than a mile from our house, walking distance! Mom said "too expensive". Instead, she immersed me in Lee Wards, the precursor to Michael's.

  33. I hadn't been to my LYS for several months. My husband was sick and I was spending many hours in the hospital knitting to pass the time. Having finished all my projects I went to my LYS to find another project. The shop owner greeted my with Where have you been. Is everything ok. I knew something was wrong when I hadn't seen you in so long. She let me talk and cry until I could get down to the yarn I needed, This shop is more than a place to buy yarn. It is a community with good friends that care about us not just selling products. Can't find that online! My shop is Brownsville Stitching Parlor in Brownsville,OR.

  34. Your post is quite timely. The (yarn)industry is changing and not all of it is good. How does a yarn store create an environment that is more engaging than the internet. I can appreciate the convenience of the internet. That being said, lys' pick up dropped stitches, they help you pick out projects, listen to you, commiserate with project malfunctions, and ooh and ahh over your finished knits. They provide a sense of community and belonging in the flesh that you can't get on the internet.

    By the way, there is a name for going into a store, seeing the merchandise in person, and then buying it online. It's called "showrooming".

  35. Sally, Very interesting post. I think your yarn store owner is missing a point though - does she KNOW that the folks are buying online?

    I've been to many a store that folks called "wonderful" and walked out after fondling the yarn because of a terrible customer service experience. It might not be the owner, but a specific individual who is causing a problem. I didn't buy online, but I would have bought something to support a local business.

    Part of what frustrates me about talking to yarn store owners is that they just assume their customers are a bunch of cheapskates who don't buy something because we're going to buy it online later. It might be that I was still making up my mind about something. It might have been that I got a text with a very unfortunate emergency expense. It might have been I needed to grab the pattern at home to remember how much I needed. It might have been that I couldn't match the color. It might have been because they said something rude about crocheting or loom knitting that I disagreed with (I knit - needle and loom - and crochet). Only seldom is it because I looked at the price and thought it unreasonable (and this happens mainly on stock yarns like Cascade products, where I know the store 10 minutes away sells it for less than another store I'm in).

    There are SO many factors involved in purchasing. I have two regular local yarn stores that I purchase from. Both have taken the time to build a relationship with me and not deemed me a terrible customer because I don't always buy something from them. The one that has really listened to what I need in a store has gotten more business, but I still rely on the other one for my luxury yarns (my main LYS is a practical, budget oriented store, but sometimes you need cashmere and seasilk ;-) ).

    If the store listens to their customers and stocks what they want as well as what the owner wants, if they give great customer service to anyone (not just knitters), and if they have a way of building community (open stitching nights, coffee shop, etc.) they will get my business. If not, then I walk away.

  36. I would have to drive 80 miles to buy yarn at the LYS I like. There is a LYS close to me, but the customer service there is terrible! So, unless I have a chance to go to the LYS which is far, I will keep buying online. I will not support a shop that treats its customers badly.

  37. I so agree. Please check my latest blog entry. It concerns this exact issue regarding our greenhouse business.

  38. It's my "to swatch or not to swatch" blog.

  39. HI Sigrun,
    I read your blog and am so sorry to read your story. I was especially impressed with the lesson you learn from seminars--to never undercut the competition because it's bad for the industry. I did not know that was considered a solid business practice.

    This has been a very lively discussion, and I agree with pretty much everyone. The bottom line is that we need to bring consciousness to how we spend our dollars, giving them to people who follow good business practices!

  40. I do prefer to buy through my local yarn store but if a yarn store is not well stocked, can't get yarn shipped to me in less than a 4week window and makes me pay up front to wait for it, charges substantially more for a skein of yarn than most everyone else out ther, tries to push alternate yarn on me just to make a sale, doesn't offer to start carrying a brand I use regularaly etc. and has no loyalty program to encourage me to buy local, then I can't help them. The best local yarn stores give you points for credit to keep you shopping at their store (or offer you 20% off if you are purchasing a large volume of yarn. They recognize that in order to gain your loyatly, they need to be loyal to you too. They call you when your favorite yarn arrives in some new glorious shade, they encourage you to sit and knit in their store (whether you bought the yarn there or not). They create relationships with their clients and they stay open for a long, long time.

  41. Sally, I work in a knit shop and I also see people asking for help on projects with yarn we did not sell them. Sometimes I would like to say go back to the store you purchase from and ask them for the help. More and more stores are closing. If we don't start supporting our LYS we won't have a place to sit and knit and visit and support and inspire each other. That is why we pay a little more at the store, IT'S TO KEEP THE LIGHTS ON! Jennifer

    1. I am an ex-lyso and you right more and more stores are closing and it has a lot to do with people coming in asking for help plus expecting 20 min. of help for free, coming in with Iphones an taking pics, taking all info and never coming back to purchase the yarn. I used Ravelry to help look up patterns etc. we tried it all but the rent and all the cost that we had just could not be covered. We will definitely miss our regular supportive customer that became good friends but.... :(

  42. interesting topic- I am an avid knitter, with an MBA. I can see things from several different sides. I am fortunate to have several LYS's within 15 miles. There are times I think of moving somewhere else, but always look to see what kind of knitting community/how many yarn stores are in the possible new location.

    I was taught a long time ago that if I was going to put hours and hours of my time into a project I should use the best materials I could afford. So, in general I buy the type of yarn I can only get at an LYS. I very rarely (?never) use yarn from Michael's, etc. I have bought things online but only when I can't find what I want locally.

    I do have a bit of a beef though with some yarn stores- I have gone into yarn stores and the customer service is awful. I stand there at the counter with $150 worth of yarn for a sweater and no one comes over to help. I have ordered yarn from a local yarn store and been charged extra money for "rush handling" and then been told they had to order the yarn so it will take 10 days- how is that rush handling? So, while I really appreciate having LYS's near, because when I want yarn for a new project I want it NOW, many people need to look hard at how they run their business.

    It's like any other relationship. You get out of it what you put into it. The current store I go to most of the time used to have a loyalty program where after you spent $200 you would $20 off your next purchase. That was abolished. No notice, they just stopped doing it.

  43. I have the very best of both world's. I live in Seattle; we have a local yarn shop that also doubles as an online retailer of discount (but high end) yarn. I buy yarn locally, but I head straight to Etsy to buy spinning fiber; it puts me directly in touch with the shepherd.

    BTW, I have never had crappy service at an LYS. I have never met any employee at an LYS who was "just" a retail store clerk. They are knitters -- just like you and me.

  44. I already have a huge stash, but that doesn't stop me from buying new yarn. There are 3 yarn stores nearish to me (2 when I'm at home, and 1 close to where I work). Two of them are relatively new, and I haven't been in to either. I just noticed one of them the other day. I will go in, soon, just to take a look at what they're offering and how it feels. The one near work I have been to several times, and I have always bought somethimg. But at this shop, while it has knit nights, if you didn't buy it there, you're really not welcome to sit and knit. If you want help, it costs. If you want yarn wound into cakes, you have to buy it there. I buy yarn from lots of different places, but probably most often from, who charge very reasonable shipping rates and deliver usually within 3 days, not counting Sundays or holidays. They're wonderful people, provide help if asked, and treat all their customers with friendliness and respect. Something I haven't really found locally, yet. Oh, and their loyalty credit program is wonderful. They also do something special ~ they surprise one customer a month, by awarding them a credit equal to what they spent the month before. No entry required. I won a few months ago, and it made a big impact on me. So I'll check out the local shops, but I'll continue to shop at, which feels like a LYS to me.

  45. I started an online yarn shop to provide yarns and accessories for people who just don't have access to these items. I chose yarns that are not easy to come by and some basics. I am not in this to make a huge profit and I price my yarns at the same price as most of the LYS. I have a sale just like they do from time to time. I would love to have LYS but this is what I can do for now and I am available to answer questions by phone or by e-mail. In today's economy you need to be competitive and if the LYS isn't then like any industry they won't be around for long. If they can provide the service and the product their customers are looking for, then they will always get the sale over the online shop. Knitters need to see the colours and textures in person so if they didn't buy from you when they came in your store, then you need to look at what was missing from their experience. The biggest complaint about the LYS is the lack of stock and it takes a long time to get the yarn in. I will go out of my way to make a special order for a customer if that is what they need. When you are excited about starting a project, you don't want to wait! Julia @

  46. I buy online from a vendor I adore (great yarn, great service, wonderful retreats) and also from my LYS, which is also a neat place. One thing that my former LYS in PA (shout-out to the Colonial Yarn Shop in Shiremanstown, PA) did to encourage customers was to offer many varied and challenging classes and to make it a policy that you had to use yarn you had purchased in her shop for those classes. She got sales, we got great classes. It was a win-win.