Handmade: Woolly&Co. yarn shop survives three major catastrophes
As an entrepreneur, Aviva Susser's perseverance has been put to the test with major challenges not once, not twice but three times in just over two years, and strangely enough, each situation occurred in the month of March.
Susser is the owner of Woolly&Co., a yarn shop she opened in December of 2015 in downtown Birmingham at 147 Pierce. It's a wonderful getaway where yarn enthusiasts shop for supplies, share ideas and make new friends, garments and accessories. It's a place to unwind while being creative.
But, in March of 2018, business slowed down with the onset of major road construction in downtown Birmingham, affecting many merchants in the area due to fewer places for customers to park.
"It was not good -- not good at all," said Susser. "It was on-going, and it was very discouraging because people were scared to come to Birmingham. They said, 'I don't know how to get there or how to park.'"
The road construction project lasted four months, ending with a ribbon cutting ceremony in early August at Old Woodward and Maple. Things got back on track for the shop, and it was business as usual, at least until March of the following year. That's when things got messy, to say the least -- and this time it was inside the shop. A water pipe burst in the space above her store.
"It burst last year on March 15. I remember it like it was yesterday," said Susser, who lives in Birmingham with her husband, Steven, and their two adult sons. "I got a call from the girls who opened the store that day. They said they heard water and started looking around and discovered there was water running down from the light fixture. So, at first they thought it was a little bit, then they realized it was inside the store and it started getting worse.
"When I came in, I saw the windows had condensation on them, and one of my girls had tears in her eyes. I didn't know what to do. I called my son, and we went got plastic bends to put the yarn in. We tried to save as much yarn as we could, but some of the yarn and labels were soaked. I really felt someone was trying to put me out of business.
"There's a business upstairs and their coffee machine burst, which had the water supply running to it. The upstairs was totally damaged, but we all recovered, even though I was closed for two months. I had no store and nowhere to meet with my customers."
Alison Taubmankindly offered her dining room to Susser so she could meet and stitch with customers until she was able to reopen. "We had Open Table Knitting every Wednesday, from 1-3 p.m., and people came with their projects. I had my yarn in storage, so I had access to it. I would get the yarn I knew people wanted for different projects, bring those bends and my winder and set-up shop in her house. They could do their purchases because I was able to use my laptop. We had kind of a make-shift store in her house.
"Then those girls wanted to meet in the evening (as well), so we went to a different home each Tuesday, from 6-8 p.m. During the evening, we would have a glass of wine. They loved it, and they were very supportive. I would send out a lot of emails to keep everyone connected."
I asked Susser if there was ever a time when she felt like giving up? "Yes and no," she replied. "I needed to persevere. Some days, I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, what am I doing?' But, I knew I had a lot of people counting on me, so I just kept plugging along." Luckily, her landlord "was kind and understanding" about the need for her to reopen as soon as possible.
Then, as it does every year, March rolled around again, and by the middle of the month, COVID-19 had its grip on the entire world.
In retrospect, Susser views the bursted water pipe as readiness for a far more dire situation -- a pandemic. She said, "I was closed for two months, but I've felt being closed all that time prepared me for COVID-19." Once again, she was forced to close her brick and mortar, but said, "I was working all through COVID-19. I was doing curbside pickup and free home deliveries for a minimum (order) of $50." Her husband made the deliveries. "I hustled. I wasn't going to let it ruin me."
She reopened the shop by appointment only in mid-May, but as of late May customers can now shop without calling ahead. "There's no appointment needed to shop, only for help or a mini private lesson."
However, in the midst of it all, Susser has decided to "move forward" by relocating her business from downtown Birmingham to 3630 West Maple in the Village Knoll Plaza in Bloomfield Hills. She plans to open the new location by early fall. The exact date will be posted on her website (woollyandco.com). Until then, she will remain open at her Birmingham location.
About the new location, Susser said, "Customers will enjoy the convenience of free parking. They will never have to worry about feeding the meter again. Create, Connect, Unwind is our motto -- (so) now they will really be able to unwind without having the worries about time limits from the meters. Even though we are moving to a new location, I will be doing so with a heavy heart because I have lots of very fond memories of my space at 147 Pierce."
Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, email@example.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.
Contact Woolly&Co. at (248) 480-4354 or woollyandco.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.