Driven by a desire to build community and to fill a void she noticed after moving to Durham, North Carolina – there was no local craft-supply store in her area – Amelia Freeman-Lynde decided to open Freeman’s Creative in November, 2017.
Many of us who have worked in crafts for a long time have heard it declared that the only way to run a successful small business is to focus on a single craft or type of craft – yarn, sewing, needlework. Freeman’s Creative breaks that rule in carrying not only yarn, fabric and embroidery supplies, but also art supplies and products for screen printing.
“I’m not a big believer in rules about how you have to run a business,” says Freeman-Lynde. “Every business owner is different, every market is different. My experience is that there is a lot of overlap in our customers’ crafty interests. So far, it seems to be working.”
Freeman-Lynde is motivated in part by her own interest in a variety of crafts. “I’m not craft monogamous,” she says. “I really like to try new crafts, and I enjoy having a variety of projects going. I think it helps bring a good range of folks into the shop, and just practically speaking, being located in the South means there’s definitely a slow season for knitting and crochet.” By diversifying the crafts the shop supports, she can balance demand during the warmer months, when cool-weather knitting and crochet is in lower demand.
Freeman’s Creative supports crafters with varying levels of experience, with lots of beginners coming through their doors. The shop offers classes geared to getting people started with a craft, learning new skills, and generally working with their hands.
To build community, throughout the year the shop offers classes, clothing swaps and supply swaps, and they host a Craft Club that meets regularly. “As our world gets more digital, I think people are craving some really practical, tactile activities.”
Freeman-Lynde isn’t terribly interested in following trends, aiming to teach people skills they’ll use throughout their lives. But of course trends do present themselves, and she reports that she’s been noticing “a lot of interest in visible mending, refashioning, natural dyeing, and sustainability in general.”
With a professional background in theatrical prop-making, Freeman-Lynde says she found her skills to be easily transferrable to owning and operating a craft-supplies shop. “I sewed miles of pink satin curtains, and got some practice on an industrial machine. Every show is different; you might need to make a bookshelf, or a newspaper, or a pie, or a basket of knitting. And on the business end, I learned a lot about budgets and time management.”
Of course, owning and operating a craft shop doesn’t come without its challenges. “It’s more than a full-time job,” she says.
“There’s so much to think about all the time, and it’s expensive to rent a space, and to store and display everything. Managing the costs is difficult, and people are used to lower and lower prices and endless sales that come with online retail.”
Freeman’s Creative has not yet dived into e-commerce, but Freeman-Lynde says they’ll tackle it one day. For now, she’s focused on celebrating the shop’s second birthday in November. “It feels like a big milestone to reach this point and keep growing and learning. There are so many times when I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, and that people will figure out I don’t have business training or know all the answers. But then folks will give me really great feedback, and tell me how much they like the store or how much they’ve learned in a class, and it feels like maybe I am doing something right.”
Kim Werker is a Vancouver-based writer who is building a community of creative adventurers.