Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My LYSs, or why I always end up buying from Webs

You would think I was fortunate living within driving range of so many local yarn stores (LYSs), as shown on the map below. But despite my advantageous location, I've yet to find a LYS I like.

I live directly across the street from Woolwinders (see letter G above). This yarn store is literally a one-block walk from my condo. A knitter's dream come true, right? WRONG. I have a variety of problems with this shop, but I'll give you just one recent example. I went in last week seeking a set of size 5 double-pointed needles. Nothing esoteric, right? Standard fare in any yarn store? WRONG. They didn't have any size 5 DPNs, nor any 6s either. Sadly, I wasn't even surprised because this has happened there so often before. I went home, got online, and ordered the DPNs from my old faithful, Webs. This Massachusetts-based Internet store always has what I need and at a cheaper price, too - even with shipping. (As an aside, when I was in Woolwinders last week, I noticed a knitter leafing through the new Webs catalog - right at the store's main table!)

Next up, there is a new, well-marketed yarn store in Alexandria, VA, called Fibre Space. I haven't been there yet because it's 45 minutes away, but I've been wanting to visit. Well, last week the store announced that my beloved Jared Flood  would be giving three workshops in May. Woo hoo! I emailed right away to say that I wanted to sign up for the sweater workshop - and was right away rejected. "Registration doesn't open until March 8." Okay. Irritating, but I'll deal. I made myself a note in Outlook and started at 9:00 AM Monday trying to register. Nothing on the site. Went back at 9:30. Nothing on the site. Went back at 10:30. REGISTRATION CLOSED, class is full, go to hell. Dammit! So frustrating. I sent a complaint and asked to be put on the waiting list. I'm second in line apparently - which means I'm not going to get to take this class despite making multiple attempts to register. Needless to say, I won't be hiking to Alexandria anytime soon nor spending any of my hard-earned dollars at Fibre Space.

There are a couple of other yarn stores about a half hour from me. One is filled to the brim with novelty yarn that I almost uniformly hate. The other is a filthy mess with mismatched skeins of yarn strewn everywhere. In both cases, they carry very few natural fiber staples like Cascade 220, and of what they do carry, they only have two skeins of each color. "We'll be happy to special order this yarn for you," they say.  Never mind. I can do that myself - and get the 20-25% discount from Webs, too.

Two final complaints about LYSs. One, the knitting classes are uniformly too elementary for me. I guess yarn shop owners think they need to attract newbies to sell yarn. I disagree. LYSs should be attracting diehards like you and me. I'm the one who has a monthly knitting budget, for God's sake! I'm not in there buying two skeins and a set of size 10 needles so I can make my first scarf. I'm buying 2500 yards of the good stuff! The first rule of business is to go where the money is. Why don't LYSs work on attracting knitting devotees like me?

And two, I wish the drop-in knitting events were friendlier and more inclusive. Most stores near me offer such events - although the one across the street charges a fee, believe it or not! The other stores offer free knitting circles, but when I go I feel like the proverbial miserable high school wallflower. The women already know each other, and like the school cliques I remember so well, aren't open or friendly to newcomers. I knit in silence, counting the minutes until I can get up and leave - never to return again.

All this being said, owning and running a yarn store is incredibly difficult work, especially in this economy. I know how much it costs me just to buy yarn for just one sweater; the overhead must be astronomical. And after my short teenage career in retail, I can promise you I'll never do it again. But I wish I could find just one LYS that worked for me. I persevere; I have shops in Hagerstown, Frederick, and Baltimore I intend to visit.

But I suspect I will return again and again to Webs. Recently I told my old friend and college roommate, Chris, that I would love to visit to Webs when I next vacation in New England. She replied that she'd been to the retail outlet and wasn't impressed - it was just another local yarn store.

Wow. Maybe I shouldn't visit after all. I don't want to be disappointed in my tried and true. Maybe I should just keep happily shopping online, getting Webs' great discounts, and keep my perfect LYS fantasies to myself.


  1. I couldn't agree more, Julie. I don't shop often at my LYS either. I used to go in and look around and wonder why I never felt inspired to buy anything. I finally figured out that she doesn't carry yarns that are my taste--the colors are predominately colors that would look good on her (but not me) and only a few skeins of yarn in each color and not enough choice in natural fibers. Way too many acryllic blends, when the big box craft stores carry more than enough for that segment of the market. Finally, like you, when I need a needle in a particular size, it isn't in stock. Oddly enough, there are hardly any samples of finished projects in the store, and those that are there have been there for a long time.

    Groups are unwelcoming to new members as well. There are some special interest groups, but any WIPs are supposed to be only using materials bought at the store. She also charges for help sessions, and I've been told that questions that will further the chances of a sale are not answered but directed to the twice monthly help sessions.

    Like you, I understand how difficult it must be to own a LYS these days, but still. Luckily I found a fantastic LYS that is about 1.5 hour drive from home--a fantastic Saturday road trip with another knitting friend. We make a day of it and always eat at one of the nice restaurants near the shop. I enter the shop and immediately feel inspired to knit something fantastic and buy the wonderful yarns. The shop is jumping with other knitters and there's always a class in session. The staff is helpful and gets about as excited helping me plan my new project as I am.

    So I buy there and I buy on-line. I prefer to feel the yarn and see the colors before buying, so on-line shopping feels risky to me.

  2. Hey Ann,

    I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one. Sounds like you have exactly the same issues that I do. I envy you that day-trip LYS though... wish I could come along. Sounds like a lot of fun.

    I agree with you about wanting to see and touch the yarn before purchase. I've had times when I've been really surprised - and really disappointed. My happiest surprises have been Knit Picks Bare (SO soft!) and Classic Elite's Inca Alpaca (I could go the whole rest of my life and wear nothing else). But you never know.

    As always, thanks for reading, girl!

  3. I hate to be an I -told -you-so, but it is obvious they were saving the spots for
    those who frequent the classes or are in the 'loop' there.
    I've been through that with job openings in departments and being on a hiring board(..the position was filled already but as a formality it had to be posted. Same rotten procedure.
    I order my stuff online and usually go to the LYS to see what texture and color is like. If enough of it is in the shop, I buy. If it is not, I go online knowing what I want.Accessories I get on ebay from a store which ALWAYS has what I want.

    After that, JF wkshop incident,I would NEVER go there , even if it were next door to my house.

  4. I'm sure you're absolutely right, Teresa... I'm sure that LYS's "in crowd" got in and I didn't. But what goes around, comes around... you get what you give, etc. As you say, I will never go there now. What a lousy way to do business.

  5. What bugs me is when there are only a few balls of each color yarn out on display. It's not gonna sell if it's not on the floor, people! If I'm there in the store, I want to buy my project's quantity, not wait for a special order that may or may not get ordered for a week, even after I prepay. I might as well order it myself!

  6. Anne, amen, sister! I couldn't agree more.

  7. I do believe I was slightly misquoted. I said WEBS lacked charm and cuteness, not yarn or supplies, by any means!
    xo Your old friend and college roommate

  8. Chris, duly noted! I stand corrected. Thanks for the clarification. :-)

  9. What WEBS lacks in charm and cuteness is completely made up for in customer service and selection. The store is it's only location (online and retail in the same building) and is my LYS. I think I've been spoiled. I have yet to find a store I like more. And I've been to over 50 stores.

  10. Julie,

    You need to come and visit Really Knit Stuff in Tallahassee FL. It's a welcoming place, full of yarn, in enough quantities of the same lot and color for at least a large sweater in neutrals and all the colors of the rainbow.

    She is fully stocked in DPN's, circular and straight needles, accessories, books and patterns. Most of the yarn is natural fibers, wool, silk, bison, cashmere etc. etc. she has a small selection of novelty and acrylic blends for people who like it. She also has some groovy "one-of-a-kind" skeins of yarn, spinned by fiber-artists.

    We just bring whatever we are working on and sit around the table and knit, any day of the week, we call that "Adult daycare", we have so much fun, newcomers are always given a lot of attention but we are probably the biggest enablers you've ever met when it comes to making you feel great about buying a lot of yarn.

    There is a good range of classes from beginner to advance, including such things as fair-isle, socks, intarsia, lace, cables etc, and even some great crochet classes. One of the upcoming classes I'm giving there will be called "The perfect cast-on", we'll learn many cast-ons, from the very usual ones like long-tail and German twisted,to the less known ones like tubular and channel-Island, and learn the application and the pros and cons of each of them.

    So, come and visit any time, just sit and knit, it's free and you don't even have to have bought the yarn there. Just don't try to be on a diet while there though, someone always brings something to eat. Let me know when you intend to come cause I want to make sure I'll be there!

  11. Anonymous, I am so JEALOUS. I'll definitely swing by Webs when I'm next in Massachusetts.

    And Michele, the next time I make it to Florida, plan on spending the day with me knitting away at Really Knit Stuff. It sounds like a splendid place - as a splendid person, no wonder you like it so much!

  12. I have a few LYSs in my area. Some I like and some not so much. I really don't like it when I have someone sticking yarn in my face telling me "This is our latest arrival" which has happened to me 3 times when visiting one particular shop. At another they bad mouthed a couple of customers after they left. That makes me wonder what they say about me. Not for nothing, I'm a plus size lady and buy a lot of yarn for sweaters, as well as socks, lace, etc. My favorite shop is terrific with a free weekly knit night and a free monthly spinning day Most of the time, I buy something when there.

    WEBS is great. Most The customer service is always wonderful. They really do offer to help you and are super friendly. I usually go to the store once a year.

    Did you know they also have a bead shop right down the street from them? I haven't been there yet, but plan to the next time I visit.

  13. Hi Julie,
    I work in your area and I've been to that LYS across the street from you. All I can say is they are my store of last resort. I have been so unimpressed by the attitudes and unwillingness to help a customer that I refuse to go back. I am not going to give my money to someone who does not seem to appreciate that I came in.
    I live near the LYS north of you in Frederick. I have had great experiences there. Have you tried that store? The owners are super friendly and have always been helpful to me (and they have tolerated my kids tagging along when I had no alternative - but I demand good behavior from the kids too).
    On another note, my in-laws are ~30 minutes from Webs. GO. Just Go. You get the discount, the people are beyond helpful. The yarns are all there for you to "squoosh". Lots of room to walk around and browse. I was rushed, as I had the 3yr old with me, but I can't wait to go back. There's just something about being able to shop for yarn in person that can't be beat.

  14. Anonymous, thank you for verifying my experience. The store of last resort is a wonderfully apt description. It's sad that it's so bad, isn't it?

    Regarding the Frederick store, are you talking about Eleganza? I've not been there, but I'm on their mailing list. I'd like to take a class there but haven't been able to fit it in yet. If there's another up there, please let me know. I'm moving to Germantown in a couple of weeks and Frederick will be even closer.

    I'm glad to hear that Webs is so wonderful! I will definitely go and I will definitely NOT take a three year old nor my whiney boyfriend! lol... same difference, don't you know. ;-)

    Last question: do you know of any good knitting groups in our neck of the woods? I'd love to find some other knitters to hang with on a regular basis. If you know of anything, please let me know. I've tried advertising on Craig's List and even offered free lessons, but it just hasn't come together.

  15. (Becky from Frederick, formerly Anonymous)
    Hi again Julie,
    It is Eleganza. Kristi and Paul are awesome and encouraging. If you can get to a class there, I'd definitely encourage you to do so.
    Webs is awesome! You'll be in heaven.
    Knitting groups, hmmm. I don't have the chance to join them much, but there are a bunch of Frederick knitters and there is a group of Western MD "ravelers". I'm beckytm on rav - I'll send you a link to those groups if it's OK.
    Glad to "meet" you and hope we can meet in person at knitting time soon.

  16. Hey Becky (aka Anonymous!), thanks for the knitting group info. I am definitely going to make my way up to Eleganza. I moved to Germantown this past weekend so it's certainly within shopping range. I'm glad to get such a good report about that LYS. Hope to meet you soon!