The Yarnology storefront in Winonoa, Minnesota.

Photo courtesy of Yarnology.

This is the first in a series of profiles we’re doing of Craft Industry Alliance members who own brick-and-mortar retails shops. We’re excited to feature our brick-and-mortar shop owners and celebrate the hard work they do each day to create community, teach, and connect people with the craft supplies and materials they need.

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“If your First Place is your home and your Second Place is your workplace or school, you still need a Third Place where you are always welcome,” explains Gaby Peterson, co-owner of Yarnology, a local yarn shop in Winona, Minnesota.

Starbucks is perhaps the most famous business striving to establish its shops as a “Third Place,” but the idea is not unique to the now-ubiquitous coffee shops. Peterson says this concept is at the heart of the role she and her business partner, Kelly Momsen, want their store to play in their customers’ lives.

Peterson, a lifelong knitter who has a background in human resources and technical writing, and Momsen, a high-school Spanish teacher who learned to knit as an adult, opened the yarn shop in 2010, less than a year after a mutual friend had introduced them. Their mission from the start has been to build community. “There are very few things on the shelves that couldn’t be purchased online,” Peterson explained, “so we’re really here to help people create connection.” The store does not sell online.

Winona is a college town of about 30,000 residents, known for its art and music scenes, and outdoor recreation. At the time the co-owners met, there wasn’t a yarn shop in the town, and they immediately started talking about whether they might open their own.

Located on a picturesque downtown street, Yarnology is the only yarn shop for about 30 miles, and the shop caters both to locals and to tourists who pass through. “We try to keep the shop fresh for those who pop in weekly, and easily navigable for those who are shopping with us for the first time,” says Peterson. In addition to selling a variety of yarns and related products, they offer about two classes a week. “We love, love, love new knitters and crocheters and offer beginning classes every month. Most of our customers are intermediate knitters.”

A knitting group meeting at Yarnology.

Photo courtesy of Yarnology.

Likely to “jump at any opportunity to gather and laugh and do good work,” as Peterson describes herself and Momsen, Yarnology regularly brings craft celebrities and well-known teachers to the shop; they host knit-alongs, trunk shows and yarn tastings; and every couple of years they “throw a party, invite everyone we can think of, price all of our no-longer-needed shop samples, and donate the proceeds to a local charity.”

The shop currently employs seven part-time staff members, and the co-owners report that one of their biggest challenges is recruiting and keeping high-quality staff which is related to the challenge of educating the public about why high-quality yarn comes at higher prices.

“It’s a challenge to teach some fiber lovers that the fiber will, indeed, cost a bit more here than online,” explains Peterson, “but that it comes with free advice and an amazing living room full of new friends.”

She says another challenge is simply keeping up the energy needed to run a thriving shop. “There’s a lot of cheerleading that we do for customers, we launch a newsletter twice monthly and try to make it valuable and interesting, we’re always looking for new class ideas and keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s new in the knit and crochet spheres. It’s worthwhile, but sometimes exhausting.”

Owners of Yarnology Kelly Momsend and Gaby Peterson.

Photo courtesy of Yarnology.

They also see many opportunities in running a brick-and-mortar shop: “We can really get to know our steady customers and see what an impact we have on their lives, we get to work with a team of others, and we are part of a thriving downtown. We are also surrounded by creativity all day, which is lovely.”

Knowing their customers well enables the store to offer services that keep them coming back, like the new series of finishing services they’ve launched. “Customers can have us pick up stitches, [do] Kitchener [stitch], weave in ends… whatever it is that’s keeping them from finishing their projects.”

When Peterson describes meeting Momsen, she says that what was unknown at the time was “whether two women who’d never met could form a strong, meaningful business partnership, not whether or not to open a yarn shop. Our community had been without a dedicated yarn shop for several years and we each felt it was a need waiting to be met.”

Ten years on, they’re looking ahead to continuing to meet that need for a long time to come.

Kim Werker

Kim Werker

contributor

Kim Werker is a Vancouver-based writer who suddenly feels like taking a road-trip tour of brick-and-mortar craft shops. 

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