Handmade: Yarn shops come together in time of crisis
Correction: The first name of Lora Miller, co-owner of Fun with Fiber, was misspelled in a previous version of this story.
Throughout history, various forms of crafting -- knitting, crocheting, etc. -- have often been relied upon by many as a way to escape feelings of emotional pain, uncertainty and hopelessness, especially during hard times affecting an entire nation.
"The craft industry has long been considered recession proof because people need to create. And, knitting and crocheting studies have proven they're stress reducers and people turn to comforting activities," explained Joan Sheridan, owner of Heritage Spinning & Weaving, 47 E. Flint in Lake Orion.
"Making things is satisfying and you have control. Everything around us is swirling out of control, but what we make, we can choose the end result and control the process," she stated.
That's why she and a host of other little yarn shop (LYS) owners, each a participant in the annual Southeast Michigan Shop Hop, have joined forces to help save the industry from falling by the wayside as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, they came together for their first monthly Zoom meeting.
Sheridan said the meetings are designed as a way "to check in and see how we're doing and how we're accommodating things. Many of those yarn shops are in a Downtown Development District and they all act independently. It's been interesting to see the ideas that other cities are implementing, so we can borrow those ideas from businesses other than yarn shops. I think our industry is shrinking all the time, and if we don't work together, we won't be here."
Social media has played a major role in helping LYSs stay ahead of the economic affects caused by the pandemic. "Facebook has probably been the most helpful tool -- that and our newsletter," said Sheridan. "But we can see a direct correlation between Facebook and our customers -- letting customers know about new yarn, our hours and how we're operating." Many have offered curbside service to their customers.
How did the idea for the Zoom meeting come about? "The Southeast Michigan Shop Hop group has a steering committee of five, and one of the members, Lora Miller at Fun with Fiber (Farmington), emailed the group about operating practices , and I said let's do a Zoom session, so we can really talk about this. (But) Laura was really the one to get the catalyst going."
Along with Heritage Spinning and Weaving, shops represented in the meeting were: Spun (Ann Arbor), Skeins on Main Yarn Co. (Rochester), the Wool and the Floss (Grosse Pointe), Woolly&Co. (Birmingham), the Yarn Stop (Clawson), have you any Wool? (Berkley), the Knitter's Nest (Clarkston), Stitch in Time (Howell), Fun with Fiber (Farmington Hills), Plum Tree Yarn Shop (Milan), and Ewe-Nique Knits (Royal Oak).
Topics discussed included "how returns are handled differently in different stores, and how to manage sanitizing when customers enter the store."
Sheridan thinks "a huge percentage" of LYSs will make it to the other side of the pandemic with so many are "working very hard" to stay afloat because the shops are important to customers and "the business is important to the community."
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many yarn shops having more of an online presence in terms of selling and class sessions. They're now able to reach a much broader customer base.
"LYSs have moved to a national, if not international stage. We not only have to be experts in our field (knitting, etc.), but we also need to be adept at creating digital content and webshops, marketing to a larger audience, etc.," said Sheridan. " I think this change will vastly increase the reach of the LYS and make people who have always said 'my closest yarn shop is three hours away' now have more resources and community than ever before.
"Attending a Zoom class is so much more personal than Facebook," she added. "In our (Heritage Spinning and Weaving) Sunday Fair Isle Social Knitting group, we regularly have people from around Southeast Michigan, plus a woman from Wisconsin and a pair from Washington, D.C. It is pretty cool. If you look for a silver lining, you will find it. The only constant is change -- we just don't generally get it thrown at us at this velocity!"
Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.
Contact Heritage Spinning & Weaving (47 E. Flint, Lake Orion) at (248) 693-3690 or on Facebook.