Monday, March 16, 2009

The Point

UPDATE 2: Alyssa is now working at Annie & Co. Erin is working at String.

UPDATE 1: Wednesday, April 29th: sadly, The Point has had its last day of operations today. The closing has come as a shock to many of us. I am very sad that this cozy place will no longer welcome me with its wonderful yarns, warm staff, and excellent coffees. I am leaving the review up as a tribute to the store. I loved being there and I will miss it.

This week I had the pleasure of meeting Alyssa, a very young store manager (she doesn’t like to tell her age, but suffice it to say she is little more than half of mine
--I’m 41 :-)

I thought it would be hard to find The Point (37a Bedford Street, NY, NY 10014, 212-929-0800, because it is located in the West Village, where every street runs at a weird angle and you never know whether you are walking West, East, North or South. But fortunately, as I walked on Carmine from Sixth to Seventh Avenue, it was plainly visible: the owner has placed two large signs outside that make it nearly impossible to miss.

I met Alyssa at 10:30 in the morning, shortly before opening time. Desperately craving a cup of coffee I was thrilled to learn that The Point is both store and café. Alyssa greeted me from behind a counter full of cupcakes and cookies. Now this is how I like to start my mornings!

“It’s nice that you have a café,” I said.

“Yes,” she replied. “I think it takes the pressure off for some people. The café encourages a communal atmosphere. It’s nice for me to see people that I have seen sitting by themselves many times, and one day they are sitting at the table talking to someone else who usually comes in alone. We have a lot of customers who come for coffee first and buy yarn later. No one feels obligated.”

Once I had my low dosage morning caffeine (decaf please--I am a caffeine wimp), I was able to sit and look around.
“Wow,” I said. “Who designed this place?” In the front of the store, the yarn is displayed in metal baskets that are fixed to the walls. In the back of the store, the skeins hang from wire hooks, sort of like meat at a butcher shop.

“We hired a designer for that,” Alyssa said. “It’s cool, isn’t it?” She told me that the owner, Helane, opened The Point a few years ago. “She used to be here a lot more often, but she has a full time job at Macy’s and travels a lot.” I asked why Helane runs a business on top of having a full time job. Alyssa said Helane opened the store a couple of years after September 11th. “She lives down near Ground Zero. Knitting made her feel grounded during that time. Afterwards she wished that other people would have access to something so therapeutic as well, so she opened the shop.”

A couple of customers knocked on the door and Alyssa let them in. While she was helping them, I looked around the store some more. I saw Silky Malabrigo, Alchemy, Misti Alpaca, Baby Twist, Debbi e Bliss, Knit One Crochet Two… The store carries a wide variety, which surprised me because the baskets make the place look so airy that I had expected to find a much smaller selection. There were many knitted samples folded and draped on a shelf, and one sample of a beautifully knitted and crocheted jacket draped over a mannequin.

“That’s our Pattern of the Month,” Alyssa returned to me. It was designed by Matthew Gnagy. “We sell the yarn for the pattern at 10% off--the pattern comes with the yarn. Each month we have a different theme.”

We sat down again and I began to ask my seven questions:

Me: When did The Point open?

Alyssa: Four years ago this month.

Me: What made Helane chose this location?

Alyssa: I think she used to live in this neighborhood. The West Village has her heart.

Me: Who is the staff?

Alyssa: Let me see: There’s me, and Erin, our assistant manager, who runs the blog as well. She is fantastic. The store would fall apart without her. Lea has been here the longest (2 ½ years). Megan is one of our instructors. She teaches crocheting and spinning. She made the elephant in the window.

ME: That elephant is amazing! Who buys the yarn and what is important to you guys?

Alyssa: Helane and I meet with vendors. We try to carry diverse pallets (a little bit of everything except for acrylics). We have a small amount of cashmere at our high price point, but we carry a large amount of moderately priced yarns and some cheap ones as well. We like to support small vendors. I try to find yarns that our clients will enjoy and avoid those that pill. We carry Knit One Crochet Two, which uses recycled textile and garment waste. I am a vegan and recycling is important to me. Our cupcakes are vegan too (and we have soy milk).

ME: What kinds of classes do you teach here?

Alyssa: We teach spindle spinning, yarn dyeing, beginning knitting (3 times a week) and crochet (2 times a week). Our classes are mostly in the evenings and weekends. Barbara has been teaching knitting for 50 years. She teaches finishing classes, Tunisian crochet, gloves that fit, and how to fix mistakes. Megan teaches yarn dyeing, crochet, and spinning. Hanna teaches intro to lace free form, knitting and crochet, and alternatives to double point. Kiara teaches beginning knitting and baby items.

We have workshops, too. In April Jared Flood will be here twice (April 10th and 24th) teaching his Girasole, and Tanis Gray will teach her Bartlett Cowl (April 3rd) and Hawthorn Hat (April 17th). In March Joyce Goodman was here teaching knitting with wire.

ME: Wow, I am totally star struck with Jared Flood. Did you see Tanis’ blue alpaca scarf? It was on the cover of the last Vogue Knitting. I was completely floored by it. I really wish I had the time to come down for these things, but I have no freedom because my kids are so little. The most time away from them I get is to do these interviews.

ME: What got you into yarns? I guess I will ask you, because Helane is not here.

Alyssa: I grew up in a yarn store. My mom runs one outside of Buffalo. I used to knit the store samples and started helping out when I was very young (now her young age made sense to me).

ME: Have you seen anything change since the economy tanked?

Alyssa: There is definitely a difference. A lot more people come into the store now to hang out during the week. It usually slows down after Christmas, but this year it didn’t. People also seem more cautious with what they buy. Book sales have gone up a lot.

It was 12 already, so I thanked Alyssa for the wonderful morning and headed to my favorite bagel place up the street: Bagels on the Square. My husband and I used to stop there to pick up bagels and cream cheese on our way to the airport to avoid the airplane food (once in the pouring rain—the driver nearly killed us!). I chose two: apple cinnamon and scallion deluxe, eating the latter for lunch and the former for desert. It brought back very nice memories.


Elise said...

Thank you thank you thank you for introducing these stores! I'm an artist visiting NYC for the week and between running all over town to see the overwhelming number of galleries and museums, I'm really going to need to take time to snuggle some angora. I found your blog through ravelry, and I can't wait to visit at least one of these charming stores!
Thanks again!

Sinje Ollen said...

Thanks so much! I just went to your site. I like your artwork. My husband is a musician, so I especially appreciated the musician paintings you did. My (twin) sister is a painter. I think you would like her work. Her website is She works out of Berlin (Germany). Good Luck on your gallery tour! :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for visiting The Point. It is my favorite yarn shop. Alyssa is an amazing manager/person. I've been knitting and living in NYC for over 25 years and I find myself sitting down at The Point for a snack and a knit there at least four days a week. I've made friends with people visiting NYC on vacation and with neighbors that I never would have met if not for the warmth of this place.

Susie said...

What a great blog you have here! I'm a HUGE fan of The Point, I'm there much too often truth be told, and you hit the nail on the head. It's a great store and Alyssa is amazing.