Monday, February 2, 2009
When I walked into Downtown Yarns (at 45 Avenue A between 3rd and 4th), I was struck by the beautiful, knitted snowflakes in the window. I was so mesmerized by them that I nearly tripped over the fluffy Golden Retriever lying behind the door. Oh! Now I understood the sign in the door: Please pick up your dog- Frankie thanks you! "Hello," I greeted the bundle of golden hair. "You must be Frankie."
"Can I help you?" A warm face at the end of the long narrow store was peaking over the counter. Rita, the owner, was in the process of ordering wool. I told her I was the woman who had called about the blog, and that I wanted to review New York knitting stores. "Right," she said. "Why don't you hang up your coat." She motioned me to step behind the counter. "Do you want some coffee?"
Wow, I thought. It must be nice to work here.
Since Rita was busy on the phone, I began by exploring the store and taking pictures. The store is long and narrow with very high ceilings. Yarn shelves reach from the floor to the ceiling, adorned by open skeins dangling loosely from hooks on the adjacent walls. I was impressed by the craftsmanship of the knitted samples; whimsical lace dresses hung next to jackets, coats, hats, and a number of dinosaurs. Knitted dinosaurs?
"That's a pteradactyl," Rita said and smiled. "We had a dinosaur theme recently. The window was full of them." Two people walked in the door, one carrying a Yorkshire Terrier who seemed very familiar with the surroundings. Leti, one of Rita's part time staff, helped the woman solve a pattern problem. The other woman showed her finished hat to Rita, who admired it greatly. I used the time to explore the yarn in the store. Rita carries almost entirely natural fibers: Misti Alpaca in various thickness, Chunky Malabrigo, and bright pink Colinette Point Five. Classic Cotton in vibrant colors, and a whole shelf full of kid mohair. A librarian ladder leans on a shelf filled with a blend of undyed alpaca and wool. "I'm done," Rita said. "Do you want to ask me some questions?" So we moved on to the interview part of my visit.
Me: When did you open your store?
Rita: In 2001.
Me: What made you choose this location?
Rita: I live upstairs--and I love this neighborhood.
Me: When you buy yarn, what is important to you?
Rita: Quality and value. I always ask myself: is it worth the money?
Me: What kinds of classes do you offer?
Rita: Different people, who I just think are good teachers, teach different classes; some knit, some crochet. Some work here and some don't. We have a website where you can find more information: http://www.downtownyarns.com/.
Me: Who is your staff and how long have they been here?
Rita: A lot of people work here, most of them part time. We have many different temperaments and expertises in the store. Some of us spin, some design store samples, some crochet, some are great finishers... The first criteria is that the staff are really nice.
Me: I guess that answers my next question: who makes the store samples?
Rita: We all kind of do. Irina did the pteradactyl. She does a lot of the dresses. She is very, very good. And Leti here is a fabulous designer." Leti blushed and smiled.
Me: What got you into yarns?
Rita: I've knit all my life. I was a florist for 17 years, but it was too stressful. The yarn shop is a good fit for me. It's like play. Wool is just as pretty as flowers, but it doesn't go bad.
Me: This is a question just for me. I don't know yet if I will include it. Do you think people are knitting more or less in the recession?
Rita:I think that's hard to say yet. It's still cold out and people generally knit more in the winter, so we'll probably have to wait til the spring to know more about that.
Me: Thanks, those were all my questions.
I hung out a little bit more, just because I liked the atmosphere so much. Then I bought some chunky Misti Alpaca to make a scarf for my husband. I carefully stepped over Frankie, petted her on the head and headed back uptown to my kids.
What a great morning. I'll be coming back here!
UPDATE February 9th:
Rita just contacted me to tell me she has a new window installation.
Her newest theme is felted boots. I just love it! Everyone in the store knitted and felted a pair of boots, and a shoe artist is going to create soles for each pair. The finished, felted boots can be worn outside as regular shoes. Rita gives out the pattern with the purchase of the yarn. I'll be getting mine next week!