Tuesday, May 19, 2009
It was another gorgeous day today, so I swung on my bike and rode through Central Park to The Woolgathering (318 East 84th Street, New York, NY 10028 Phone: 212.734.4747 www.thewoolgathering.com). I was zipping down 84th street when a woman opened a car door and nearly knocked me off my bicycle. I shrieked, and she pulled it shut at the very last second, reassuring me through the open window. “I wasn’t going to open it far.” I wondered whether this was supposed to console me or reassure her, and I got to the store a bit rattled and in need of comfort. Just the right time to visit some yarn! When I entered Woolgathering, I almost thought I had gone to Downtown Yarns by accident. It has the same long, narrow feel with high ceilings, and similar shelves on the wall. A ladder leans on the yarn shelves just like at Downtown. I looked around to see if there was a big golden retriever lying around, but instead I found a bull mastiff hanging on the wall.
I asked for the owner, but Diane, who was sitting at an antique wooden table with a happily knitting customer, told me that Sylvia had just left for the day (this seems to be my lot lately). The happy knitter, who was making a baby blanket for a friend, chimed in: “You can ask Diane anything you need. She is an expert knitter. Any question you have, she can answer it for you.” They chuckled.
“Sylvia makes it a point to tell people that she loves knitting, but that she is by no means an expert knitter," Diane explained. "I usually answer knitting questions.” She handed me a chair.
“That’s great,” I said and pulled out my notebook. I felt instantly welcomed into the round like an old acquaintance. We chatted a bit--about identical twins who kill one another. (The woman with the baby blanket was holding a book called “The Evil Twin” when I came in. I am an identical twin, so it piqued my interest). Then we moved onto more cheerful topics, and I began to ask my seven questions.
Me: When did this store open?
Diane: The store has been here for about 20 years. Sylvia took it over about 7 years ago.
Me: What made Sylvia chose this location?
Diane: Sylvia lives around the corner. She likes to knit. When she heard that the store was available, she took a chance. Sylvia is tenacious, strong, and entrepreneurial. She also likes to support causes. She donates to all the public schools in the neighborhood, and she carries a line of bags made in Africa to help African women become economically independent. I work here because I like Sylvia. I already knew her when the store opened; we were friends.
My phone rang. It was my husband. “Where is the bus stop down here? No, Andor, don’t pick that up, that’s disgusting!” I didn’t dare ask what it was. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I told Adam where to go and returned to my conversation, apologizing for the interruption.
Me: Who is your staff?
Diane: I am the manager. I’ve worked here for six years. I am here Monday-Friday, and Karina is here Saturdays; we are closed on Sundays. Sylvia and I are usually here together. We work with a fantastic finisher. I give her a lot of my garments because I don’t particularly like finishing (she laughed). She was here before when the store belonged to the previous owner, and she has continued to work for us.
Me: How do you guys choose yarn?
Diane: I mainly choose the yarn. I look for specific quality, cost, and “washability”. We specialize in baby items, so I like to have yarns that can survive a washing machine cycle. I also look for length (yardage). We sell some books, but we loan a lot of them to people as well. We carry a little bit of everything. Some Artyarns Cashmere (I saw a really pretty beaded Artyarns Cashmere—sigh), some Karabella, some Manos, Malabrigo, Punta, a little bit of Road to China, some Cascade, Tahki Stacy Charles, Prism, and a few others…
Me: Do you guys teach classes?
Diane: We teach classes for very beginners, but when you become a patron we help you with anything. We don’t charge for that.
Me: Who makes your store samples?
Diane: We very rarely do custom patterns. Most of our samples are from companies. I knit some of the blankets. The baby sampler came with the store (she pulled out a beige blanket with different stitch patterns on it). People really like making this blanket. It’s a really good way to practice knitting different stitches.
Me: Do you think people knit more since the recession?
Diane: People definitely knit more. Maybe they look for a bigger bargain, but they knit more--knitting is soothing.
With that thought in mind, I thanked Diane for her time and grabbed my helmet, ready to brave the New York streets again. I carefully watched for opening car doors until I arrived safely at Central Park, where I enjoyed the car-free zone even more than usual. I nearly took my hands of the handle bars, but I was afraid that the empty children’s bike seat behind me would throw off my balance. I got home safely to two fighting kids who were wearing out their Papa. Turns out they were very tired. Once they hit their mattresses, they were out like little lights.