Local yarn stores and the economy

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Yarntopia, from across the street. I am taking up digital photography, so you have to excuse the learning curve on these photos. Adam, who is the better photographer, normally shoots the pictures for New York Minknit, but I am trying to learn, so bear with my efforts.

I had lunch with a friend yesterday, and swung by my old  neighborhood, Morningside Heights. I stopped by the local yarn store up there, Yarntopia, which opened a couple of years ago. I’ve stopped by this store a couple of times the first year it opened, and I went back today. It’s a one-woman operation, and it has a solid range of yarns (Malabrigo in all weights, including sock, large selection of Noro, tweed yarns), all available in fairly broad range of colors. Ivete pointed out on Yelp that the prices here are a bit higher than the suggested manufacturer retail price, which is actually something I’ve noticed across the board in New York yarn stores. Almost all of them–including the ones I frequent–charge more than the prices you’ll find listed on the internet. I assume it’s sort of unspoken collusion (not anything nefarious, unlike the Sotheby’s and Christie’s scandal of a few years ago) among the stores–if Purl can charge $14 for Koigu, then so can Knitty City, etc., and probably a result of the higher rents and costs of doing business in New York City. Even Knit-a-Way, the somewhat odd Brooklyn yarn store, sells their Addi Turbo needles for more than Purl, and definitely more than internet vendors. It is a problem though, and for customers who are watching their budgets more carefully now, stores that continue to charge these higher prices may find themselves having stiffer competition from the web. Many of us who are willing to pay a premium to support local stores, as well as to see and feel the yarn in person, may consider ordering from the internet instead when the difference in prices begins to significantly affect our shrinking disposable income budgets.

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Duane Reade. Awesome or evil? You decide. Isn’t the snow on the trees pretty?

It’s a tough decision. I know that part of why I love New York is its collection of small, non-chain stores, and though this kind of  Stuff-White-People-Like-rant is a cliche, it’s also true. The loss of great independent bookstores (read: record stores, grocery stores, or whatever you love) across the city and country strips a community of its personality, even if many of these stores are/were run by crochety and/or snobby weirdos. (The Strand, I am looking at you.) But, at the same time, if these stores cannot compete with chains or the internet, I am not sure that our society should require that we support these stores out of a loyalty to a notion of the common good. (<–This is my closet Republican talking. Two of my friends, a Republican couple, gave me a book yesterday entitled Why Higher Taxes Are Wrong, or something, saying that it would push me over the edge to the “right side.” I was like, um, I do have closet Republican leanings, but as someone who voted for Obama twice, in the primaries and the general election; who grew up in San Francisco; and whose father worked her whole life for a civil rights organization, I doubt I am going to join the dark supply-side. But you never know.) Asking people to shop at your store because of a fealty to an ideal is a quick way to go out of business.

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A sculpture at twilight (no, not the vampire Twilight, just regular twilight) in the garden at St. John the Divine. Also on my to-do list: learn photo post-processing.

I believe that these stores must find efficent ways to compete in order to survive. First, some may have to fail, (just like Lehman Brothers, or as one of the above mentioned Republican friends bitterly said yesterday, “the only bank allowed to fail.” He is, unsurprisingly, a former Lehman banker). New York just can’t support this many yarn stores, and though some, like The Yarn Connection, were perfectly great stores, there is not enough demand for all to survive. Secondly, the remaining stores must offer product that is unavailable elsewhere. Purl is a good example–their selection of Koigu is vast and constantly changing, and they have a number of colorways from Lorna’s Laces and Blue Sky Alpaca that are custom-made for them and not available anywhere else. Third, they must be willing to sell over the internet, WITH A WELL-DESIGNED INTERFACE. I cannot tell you how many online yarn stores have crappy websites that make me want to stab myself.  The future is here. Fourth, they need to promote either cheaper projects (one-skein projects) or lower prices to match the internet, and try to sell more. Volume, must, unfortunately, make up for diminishing profit margins. Finally, a number of these stores have to improve their customer service. I don’t want to pick on Yarntopia, but the customer service there has been, all three times I’ve browsed there, a bit brusque. If high-end restaurants are lowering prices and sucking up more than ever to customers, all of retail has no choice but to do the same. Of course, it’s easy for me to talk as a consumer, rather than a yarn store owner, but I think my analysis is correct, and the stores that don’t change will go out of business.

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Okay, truly a crappy photo. But the height inside is really cool.

On a more cheerful note, unemployment has given me the chance to appreciate the poetry in everyday New York. Sometimes I forget, but New York is a really beautiful city. I went into St. John the Divine yesterday, and I forgot how magnificent it is inside. Plus they have a new insane sound system, so the organ is more like a cinematic surround sound roar of faith. Just walking around and seeing the trees all dusted with snow was so beautiful.

Yarntopia:

Address: 974 Amsterdam Ave
SW corner of 108th St
(between 107th St & 108th St)
New York, NY 10025
Phone: (212) 316-9276

Posted in the Business, Yarn Stores at February 4th, 2009. Trackback URI: trackback

One Response to “Local yarn stores and the economy”

  1. February 9th, 2009 at 4:34 pm #Kyle Kunnecke

    amen, sister. I agree that if things aren’t working out then things need to change…. so the LYS’s will change or go under one at a time… –

    on a side note, I’ll tell you this (friend to friend) – your photographs are good – don’t discount your abilities – they’ll get better with practice and more study – in the meantime, your photos allow a glimpse into your neighborhood – and that’s pretty awesome!

    thanks for the great post!

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