Monday, May 4, 2009
I had read about School Products Yarns (1201 Broadway Suite 301 New York NY 10001, 212-679-3516 http://www.schoolproducts.com/—the store is undergoing a name change and adding the “yarns”) on Jared Flood’s blog, so I might have known that it’s a serious yarn store, but no: I got fooled by the name. I walked in expecting to find a big store with lots and lots of school supplies and a rich array of yarns in a corner, yarns such as the ones Jared uses. NOT! I got out of the elevator and found myself in front of a glass wall with a buzzer system. A tall young man buzzed me in. He told me that Rafael (one of the two owners) was about to come in and that if I had any questions I should wait for him. Minutes later, a man in his sixties walked in and introduced himself. “Do you know Armenia?” he asked me after we shook hands. I was so flustered by the forcefulness of his voice that I totally blanked.
Rafael is from Armenia (which is a country bordered by Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran--I looked it up :-). He is Berta’s (the other owner’s) husband. School Products, I found out, is the oldest yarn store in Manhattan (since Lion Brand just opened the studio, I am not counting them as an “old store”). School Products is sixty years old and it did start out as a place to purchase school supplies with a hefty yarn corner. Since the yarn corner was the most popular part, it grew as the rest of the store shrank, so now the store is just one huge space filled with yarns. Berta and Rafael took over the business twenty years ago and have been running the store ever since.
Rafael told me that Berta has worked as a technical knitwear developer for Donna Karan, Anna Sui, Ralph Lauren, and Calvin Klein, as well as Banana Republic and Gap. She also started a yarn company called Karabella Yarns, which carries high quality yarns of many kinds: mohair (lace and mid-weight), alpaca, cashmere, cotton, and metallic yarn… She handed the company over to her son, who now runs it. School Products carries the entire line, as well as all of Berta’s designs, specially created for Karabella. Berta’s most recent accomplishment is a book called Runway Knits, which was published in 2007. I got the book. The dresses, shawls and sweaters are pretty spectacular!
Since I had taken my pictures before Rafael walked in, I had some time to let him lead me around. He showed me large spools of yarn, pointing out that the store served both hand and machine knitters. Only then did I realize that I had never even thought of machine knitters as needing yarn—so silly! School Products sells many knitting machine ready spools of yarn, which are less expensive than the balls in the shelves, and can of course be used to knit by hand as well, thus creating an instant discount :-). The store sells more than just Karabella: Koigu, Brown Sheep, Luxor, and a number of hand dyers and spinners. Rafael and Berta also buy out yarn mills that are closing and sell the yarn at a huge discount. It’s definitely a treasure trove for the creative. You come to this store to find something great-- I found this:
500 grams of handspun silk, thinner than lace weight for $35. I have no idea what I am going to do with it, but it made me take it home... Other cool things to know are that the store carries yak, baby camel, and silk cashmere, yarns you don’t get everywhere. Designers come here as well as tourists to browse and haggle (Rafael can be flexible with prices if the volume is right). The store also carries a vast array of knitting supplies, both for machine and hand knitters. There is a book corner at the end of the store, where one could get lost for a number of hours. But Yoga was calling, so I asked Rafael my seven questions before I headed into the subway to go stand upside down on a slippery mat:
Me: When did School Products open?
Rafael: In 1947. We are the oldest yarn store In New York. We took over twenty years ago.
Me: How did you choose this location?
Rafael: The original store was here.
Me: How do you choose your yarns?
Rafael: We carry the whole line of Karabella, which is mostly Italian with some Argentinian. We also carry other companies. Except for a staple of yarns like Koigu and Luxor, we have a number of changing yarns. You can find something different every time you come here. We have served the fashion industry and FIT for many years. The store is known all over the US. We have special deals and high end fibers like silk and cashmere, baby camel and yak. We sell to many machine knitters.
Me: What kinds of classes do you teach?
Rafael: We have very professional help that can give you instructions. We carry over 500 Karabella patterns, which were all designed by Berta, plus 200 individual patterns for our high end fabrics. Berta is in the store every Monday.
Me: I guess I don’t have to ask who knits the store samples.
Rafael: Berta does.
Me: What got you into yarns?
Rafael: Berta’s experience. She worked for many years in the fashion industry.
Me: Do you feel that people are knitting less or more in this economy?
Rafael: The same, but people are more careful with their budgets. People are still knitting a lot, but they try to spend less.