And another one bites the dust. Local yarn shops are becoming extinct. In the last several years with brick-and-mortar shops in Dearborn, Lansing, East Lansing and Detroit closing, a fiber junkie will not be able to get a fix easily. Knit a Round yarn shop in Ann Arbor announced recently that they will be closing their doors. The official word is that they are retiring, and that may be true as they also are open to selling their shop. The store has a long-term client base as they have kept their doors open since May, 2000. As of right now, there isn’t a firm closing date but it will be no later than the end of June when their lease expires.
It seems like small businesses are still having difficulty in Michigan, and small businesses are some of the hardest to keep the lights on. Small craft businesses and fiber shops loose sales and customers when the customer’s income is downsized. The first thing to go are unnecessary expenses; however, to some of us fiber is as necessary as breathing.
Sandra VanBurkleo, owner of Artisan Knitworks, a local yarn shop in St. Clair Shores, has an excellent rant in her latest blog post.
Some things need to be said here. Making it through the recession has been a trick, no doubt about it. And to some extent, the fiber arts industry has suffered with every other industry in America, with the exception of fat-cat investment bankers. But that’s not the only cause for concern. When hard times hit, a lot of people down-scaled – that is, they went from their local yarn store to big-box or on-line sources because it was cheaper. More and more, people get patterns from on-line chat rooms. More and more, the brick-and-mortar operations find themselves decimated by on-line retailers, by half-price coupons at the big-box stores (so that yarn regularly priced at 5 bucks becomes 2.50 – and why should those mega-companies care? They get yarn of at least marginally acceptable quality from places where workers receive almost nothing and still make a profit). There are a couple of large on-line yarn purveyors that manufacture yarn in places like South America and China, where both materials and labor are cheaper than cheap. The dyes used are often suspect. Workers are basically used up and thrown away. But still – it’s cheap, and it’s been a hard economic time in America.
I haven’t even mentioned the whole business about shopping locally, which is supposed to be a big deal, in Michigan and everywhere else.
The handwriting is on the wall: The shops will close eventually, one by one. This is not just a market sorting itself out. These are low-profit enterprises. You don’t get to empty the ice cream machine each night and start over the next day with a fresh batch. Yarn sits on shelves for years. If you don’t sell it, you lose your shirt by selling it at cost. Employees in yarn shops typically make little more than minimum wage, or work for nothing (as with Larry and me). Lots of yarn shops succeed only because somebody, somewhere, has a living wage to fall back on.
So knitters, weavers, crocheters need to decide, sooner or later, whether the shops are worth keeping. Artisan Knitworks is actually a (limited) success story: We have survived, at least for now … so this is NOT about my own shop. It is, however, a kind of warning across the bow. Everywhere, shops are closing. Owners are exhausted. When we talk about it, the exhaustion is pervasive and sometimes unrewarded. It will be up to clients to decide whether they are worth keeping. The decision may be NO. But one way or the other, a decision will have to be made. I’d like to see empathy and sociability prevail. But it’s truly hard to say what will happen over the next year or two. Face-to-faceness is pretty old-fashioned & its survival is uncertain.
The shopping locally project that Sandra mentioned is the 3/50 project that many local businesses support. Essentially it is supporting three local shops with $50 in purchases every month. If fiber lovers followed this mantra, local shops, their employees, and the community they support would thrive.