Handmade: Shared love of yarn leads to Back Alley Fibers

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News
Owners of Back Alley Fibers in Caro are, from left, Joanne Rasmussen of Pigeon; Marty Gibbs, Caro; Mary Geer, Kingston; and Sherry Richards, Caro.

Sometimes you just have to make a move, whether you're ready or not.

The four co-owners of Back Alley Fibers in Michigan's Thumb area know what it's like to be suddenly forced to move a business -- and not once, but twice! 

The first time was because the building, which had been for sale for 10 years, was sold after they’d been renting there only a year. It required customers to enter by way of a back alley, hence the store’s name. And, unfortunately, their second move was the result of a rather messy situation — literally!

"A pipe had frozen, and nobody would take care of it," said co-owner Marty Gibbs, who lives in Caro, about the shop's second location in her hometown. "I was told we needed to wait for it to thaw out. It started thawing and water started coming up into a sink and flooded the place. We got out of there quick! We had trash bags of yarn thrown in the cars. We moved in like three hours, and none of the yarn got wet! It took only a week, or so, to get settled."

That move took place in 2014, and Back Alley Fibers successfully continues to do business at 142 N. State in downtown Caro, which was move-in ready, with no renovations required. "Way back, it was the pharmacy and soda fountain," said Gibbs. "It's (also) been two or three other businesses over the years, but since then, it was empty and perfect for us."

Sherry Richards of Caro, Joanne Rasmussen, Pigeon, and Mary Geer, Kingston, are the other three co-owners who teamed up with Gibbs in November 2006 to open Back Alley Fibers. In the beginning, there had been seven owners, but the other three got different jobs, and, as the saying goes, "life happened."

How did the idea for Back Alley Fibers develop? Gibbs said, "We all went to the yarn (and fabric) shop in the city. They had knitting groups sometimes in the evening, so we all would go. We all knew each other. We didn't know each other well, but we'd go to the yarn shop and sit and knit together." Then one day, the owner of the shop decided she wanted to sell her business.

"She sold the business that we went to for yarn and fabric to another lady, and she (later) decided to get out of the business," continued Gibbs. "So, the original lady got all seven of us together and said, 'Do you want to start a business?' We all said, 'yes,' because we wanted a yarn shop in town. We all put in as much money as we could, or wanted to, and came up with $13,000. That's what we bought our yarn and accessories with."

Back Alley Fibers caters to "a very faithful and loyal" customer base with "friendly service," exquisite yarns and learning opportunities for both knitters and crocheters. 

"We don't have specified classes because people weren't taking them," informed Gibbs, "but (currently) we're all learning together and doing the same sweater, so, it's sort of a class. It's a different kind of pattern, and we're all different levels of knitters doing it together." 

All four owners instruct customers on knitting, and although each knows the ins and outs of creating fabric with a crochet hook, they have a woman who's more skilled at instructing individuals interested in learning to crochet. 

In addition to books, patterns, accessories and a variety of popular brands of yarns -- Cascade, Berroco, Plymouth, Baah, Trendsetter, Malibrigo and Shepherd's Wool -- Back Alley Fibers also sells many of their samples, most of which they created themselves. 

Owning a business has been a real learning experience for all four of the fiber enthusiasts. "We've grown a lot. We've all learned as we were going. None of us were business owners," said Gibbs, who at 75 is the oldest among them. "We're all in retirement age, so it's just everybody enjoying coming in here, (and) who knows what the future could bring?"

"Being an owner of Back Alley Fibers has been so much fun," adds Richards. "(It's) hard to believe that we are going into our 14th year. Each of us owners have brought something special to make this store a pleasant place to spend time and be creative. Plus, the nicest people are those who work with fibers."

Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or Facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade. 

Contact Back Alley Fibers (142 N. State, Caro) at (989) 672-2144 or backalleyfibers.com. Email: backalleyfibers@yahoo.com.