Historically I’ve been spoiled by proximity to local yarn shops. When I began knitting, I lived in Greensboro, NC, where there were three, as well as several more within a half-hour drive (in Winston-Salem, High Point, and Oak Ridge). If you had a little extra time to kill, you could drive an hour east to the Raleigh area, where you can’t throw a rock without hitting a LYS.
From Greensboro I moved to Lexington, KY, where there is also a good-sized fiber community, a couple shops in smaller towns nearby (Nicholasville, Frankfort, and Berea), and even more if you were willing to hop up the road a piece to Cincinnati or Louisville. One regret I have is that I lived in Kentucky for so short a time (10 months) that I never had the chance to fully explore or appreciate those cities, or their yarn offerings. With a Monday-to-Friday work schedule and a car that I shared with a husband who was on the road a lot for work (and had an allergic reaction to yarn fumes that caused pretty severe outbreaks of aggravation), taking off for a day in another city wasn’t really feasible. I only got to visit two shops in Louisville as I passed through on my move. I also only got to go to one Cincy-area LYS, on the Kentucky side of the river. That visit is a particularly bad memory, because what should have been a perfectly pleasant visit was soured by my ex-husband’s hurry-up attitude (to be fair, we were going to a baseball game, and heaven forbid you be five minutes late to being an hour early) and the minor fact that he dropped the divorce bomb on me the following weekend.
Even little Greenville, SC–which is much smaller than Lexingon, Greensboro, or my current, temporary SoCal home–has three of them. I left there before I ever became a knitter, which is a real shame, because oh, the yardage I could have cranked out working nights at the fa-hab-ulous Holiday Inn Express and Suites. Still, I have over the course of several pilgrimages, managed to visit Wool Over Your Eyes, Yarn & Y’all, and the Needle Tree. Each has their own personality, and each of them I could see being “my” LYS.
The place where I live now, I have a distinct lack of options, yarn-wise. I live in a physical desert as well as a fiber desert. Oh, there’s a yarn shop here. A yarn shop (lets call it Fancy Swants, with apologies to Steven West), one single, solitary LYS that I have visited for the third, and final, time today. The reason I say final is because my immediate thought upon leaving was this:
Now, there are a number of reasons I’m not thrilled that Fancy Swants is my only LYS, but I get that not every shop is going to jibe with every knitter. In both Greensboro and Lexington, while I had my “favorite” shop, there weren’t any I just couldn’t stand going to. I’ll admit that a yarn shop inside an old house will automatically be held in higher regard. And while most of the shops I’ve been more lukewarm about have coincidentally been in strip malls, one of my favorite LYSes was also in a strip mall, a few doors down from a supermarket and a Chinese restaurant and across the street from a Tractor Supply. (Two Knit Wits, I still miss you.) It’s not necessarily the neighbors that make or break a business. And it’s not even just the selection, because even though my LYS has a rather lackluster array of choices (at least for my taste, given I’m not much of a fan of novelty or baby yarns), I would still pop in every once in a while, if they had ever, even once, given me decent service.
I have been in yarn shops all over the country, and even though I’m not the most outgoing of souls, I can usually find something worth chatting about with most shop staff. I absolutely adored Gate City Yarns, and even though I got what I later realized was a completely absurd yarn recommendation, it didn’t really affect my love for the shop, because there were so many other good things about it. And even when I had a blatantly bad customer service experience there, I still didn’t see that as a reason to avoid the shop entirely. I just figured the clerk (I knew it wasn’t the owner) was having a bad day, or maybe I’d interrupted a stitch count or made her drop one. I never saw her again, and I never had a bad time there after that.
I have never had an engaging conversation with anyone in Fancy Swants. Other than being told my purchase total, I’m pretty sure I’ve never exchanged any kind of words with the shop staff at all. Even a compliment on a knitted item was met with a simple “thanks.” I mean, I get not everyone wants to babble on and on about knitting, but… if you work in customer service, shouldn’t you try to engage the customer a little? Especially when you know you have this shared interest? At the very least, shouldn’t you ask if I want the yarn wound? They have a winder and swift, and today I would have taken them up on it, as I was buying for immediate use and not to stash, and I don’t have a swift anymore. (And the yarn gave me absolute hell during the winding, even before the cat got involved.)
I don’t really know what the problem is. Maybe, as a woman in her 30s, I’m not their target demographic; whenever I’ve been there, I’ve only ever seen elderly women in the shop. (And again: novelty yarns. Novelty yarns everywhere.) Maybe my introversion comes across and I give off some kind of “leave me alone” vibe, but then again, I have managed to make conversation with the owner/employee at every yarn shop I’ve ever visited, even if just to say “No, thank you, but I’ll let you know.” Hell, I’ll yammer about yarn at strangers who don’t knit, why wouldn’t I want to talk to a professional about it?
I’ve never even been greeted when I entered, nor asked “can I help you find anything?” or “did you find what you were looking for?” or even a simple “how are you doing?” or “what are you making?” I do suspect that one major contributing factor to the lackluster (or complete lack of) service is the fact that there’s just no other competition, which is absurd given that it’s the biggest city I’ve ever lived in. I have to drive two hours in any direction to get to another yarn shop. (Yes, it’s Southern California. It’s hot here, but we Knitters don’t let that stop us from practicing our craft. Google yarn shops in the LA area if you don’t believe me.)
I realize I’m committing a rather large faux pas by saying anything remotely negative about any aspect of the knitting industry; I’ve said before that the reason there are no knitting police is because we tend to prefer forming lynch mobs. And the mobs can be stirred up by the slightest of transgressions. Calling out a specific shop, even though I’m not naming names, is sure to rustle a few jimmies, because there’s a kind of sense that negativity, even constructive or honest in nature, is verboten. Everyone is amazing and lovely and wonderful. Every designer is infallible, and if the pattern isn’t working, the yarn isn’t satisfactory, or the book is printed with half the pages upside down, well, it’s probably my fault. Every small independent business is deserving of our hard-earned dollars, no matter what.
I disagree with that premise. Some people, and some knitters, have times when they’re far from amazing and lovely and wonderful. (For example, me… and I find it hard to believe I’m the only one whose halo has ever slipped.) Some patterns make it through the publication process with errors, even sometimes those by Very Famous Designers (as it happens, I’m knitting one right now). And small businesses are run by independent businesspeople who are, well, human. They aren’t perfect, and sometimes they have bad days. I understand that, which is why I let it slide that time I walked into Gate City and was glared down like I’d kicked the woman’s puppy. But three visits, and less human interaction and basic service than I’d get from a self-checkout? That’s a pattern. That’s a problem. That’s the point where I start deciding maybe my yarn dollars are better spent online.
It makes me sad, though. Is it worse to have a bad LYS… or none at all?