Wednesday, December 9, 2009


After finishing Manhattan and Brooklyn, I ventured far into the outer reaches of Queens this week to visit a knitting institution. Smiley's (92-06 Jamaica AveWoodhaven, NY 11421Store: (718) 849-9873 Mail Order: (718) 847-2185, has been around since 1935. It has always been on Jamaica Avenue, first at one location, and then (for the last 36 years) in its current place. I took the J train out to Woodhaven Avenue and exited down the stairs, finding myself right across the street from the store. Tempting smells of fast food pizza and chicken entered my nose, but our babysitter had to go to school soon, so I had very little time to linger. When I enterd Smiley's, I thought I had gone to a "Target for wool". The store is very large and filled with shelves and shelves of yarn--most of it wrapped in plastic so it won't get dusty. The website promises: "Smileys Yarns offers all of its wool yarns, cotton yarns and acrylic yarns at the guaranteed lowest prices in America." And that is true. The prices are truly amazing. Most balls of yarn are sold for under $2.

Smiley's has been run by the same family since it was founded. The two women at the front were not sure if it was the grandfather or father of the current owner who founded the company. Counting back, though, we all agreed it must have been the grandfather (unless the dad was really old!). The store was quite busy when I was there. A couple of people asked questions and were promptly (and very nicely) educated about the yarns. The women behind the counter were both knowledgeable and eager to help. Both were crocheting. I the feeling of watching old acquaintances during a coffeclatsch.

I would recommend the store to anyone on a budget and to people who are just starting out, who want to work with cheaper yarns before they try the fancy stuff. Most of the yarns can be machine washed. The store carries Tahki Elliott, Royale Love Beads, Bernat Boa, Bernat Eyelash, Cervinia Genova, Patons Twister, Patons Ci Ci, Bernat Bling Bling, Moda Dea Dream, Patons Carmen, Aunt Lydia New Wave, and more. It is a good idea to call the store and ask if there are any special yarns in the store--sometimes they carry cashmere... Aside from yarns, Smileys carries a wide array of knitting and crocheting needles, threading needles, and rows and rows of knitting magazines (also at great discounts). Once a year there is a trunk show in Manhattan where all the yarns are available. Higher end yarns, are also sold during the sales dates--at mind boggling prices. These brands are announced on the website shortly bfore the sales. The ride out on the train was enjoyable and mostly overground. You can catch the J from the A at Chambers or at Broadway Junction. Both transitions are easy--just make sure you catch the "uptown" train if you are coming from the Chambers station. Give yourself about one hour from most Manhattan locations.

After chatting for a little while and snapping photos , I looked at my watch, and dashed back out of the store to get back to Manhattan. I even made it with fifteen minutes to spare! My son greeted me with "Yay, Mom's home, now Kara can leave!" Then he turned his back on me and continued playing with his babysitter--go figure... :-)

P.S.: "Oldestyle10" from Ravelry sent me an alternate route to get to Smileys:

An alternate route to Smiley’s, for those to whom the J train is a mystery.
Take the R or V to Woodhaven Blvd-Slattery Plaza. Follow the signs to the Q11 or Q53 bus, both of which run south on Woodhaven. Get off at Jamaica Ave, which runs under the first el train you will pass, and Smiley’s is a half-block down Jamaica Ave. Travel time is still probably about an hour, but I enjoy buses much more than subways.

And on the northeast corner of Woodhaven and Jamaica, there is one of those wonderful Peruvian roast chicken places. Delicious.

Fair Trade the Second.

After my whole diatribe of "Fair Trade Knitting" last week, I had to eat my words (literally) :-) !

I have been enjoying going to the farmers market on Union Square on Wednesdays, and generally I pay less there for food than I pay at our neighborhood grocery store. So last week I went to my favorite salad stand (we've really been enjoying salads at home recently). I picked up two bags. When I went to pay, the man at the stand said, "That will be 31 dollars." My jaw dropped to the floor. $31 for two bags of salad and one box of edible flowers? I glanced back at the sign and it said $6 per quarter pound". He was right. I was too embarrassed to make a big scene, but in the afternoon I checked Whole Foods and found that their prices for salads are nearly four times less. So I went back to the stand today and asked them. "Can you please explain to me why your salads are sooo much more expensive than at other stores?" And here it goes: the guy said, "When you buy an organic salad form Whole Foods or Fairway, it's mostly been harvested by machines. The lettuce gets taken care of by machines, it is ripped out of the ground by machines, and it is washed by machines. On our farm we do everything by hand. Every leaf has been handled with care and everyone on our farm earns a living wage." So I said, "Oh, so it's kind of like Fair Trade Salad then." And he said, "Exactly!" So I went back to Whole Foods and looked at their salads, but after having eaten this amazing concoction of green, red, and purple leaves, I just could not go back to the packaged, slightly limp version. I asked my husband what he thought. Could we really justify spending so much on SALAD? And he said, "Honey, the salads from the market are amazing! They actually have flavor--you feel like you're eating a nourishing meal. The stuff from Whole Foods doesn't really taste like anything." He was right. The salads from the market are amazing. The ones from the store keep sitting in our fridge until they wilt. So today I grabbed a little less salad from the market. I figure, we will pay Fair Trade. We'll just have eat a little less... And I learned (again):

You really DO get what you pay for!