Firstly, Happy New Year to you, you lovely lot! I’m quite excited to be writing the first Woolaballoo blog of 2018, especially as it’s been a while since I last checked in with you all.
As some of you may remember, I’m Sara, an enthusiastic novice when it comes to all things wonderfully woolly. I have grasped the most basic of skills in knitting and crocheting, entirely thanks to Lucy and the fab courses she runs. Most importantly, however, I’ve developed a lovely little (but not so little as my husband thinks) yarn stash over the last twelve months.
I’m actually a wee bit addicted to yarn these days.
Whenever I visit a village, town or city away from my home stomping ground I’m always keen to visit their local yarn shop (you can find them via a fantastic FB page called Love Your LYS) to see what gems they have that are different to my local yarn shop, to get new inspiration and ideas, to chat, and as far as my husband is concerned to spend too much money! I’ve visited quite a few now, some better than others, but none that I like quite so much as my own lovely local yarn shop, Woolaballoo.
One thing I can say is that in every local yarn shop I have visited so far there has, without exception, always been some sort of strange occurrence whilst I’ve been there….which I’ll come back to in just a moment….before that I’d like to share a little story with you…
I’m blessed to live where I do for many reasons, not least because there are lots of independent local retailers round about.
I absolutely love little specialist shops with local proprietors. One such treasure near me is an absolutely wonderful award-winning farm shop where all sorts of locally sourced delights are on offer from artisan breads and pastries to an amazing range of fresh meats prepared by an outstanding butcher. Everything is of the highest quality and served by knowledgable, friendly, local staff. Sadly, the other day I came across a problem with the farm shop which I hadn’t anticipated.
I found a recipe online…you know the kind that has your mouth watering so much that you bolt out of the door drooling like Pavlov’s dog to get the ingredients, having decided that right now is the right time to make that dish? That kind. As it was a Monday my local farm shop was closed so I popped to the nearest supermarket to pick up the whole chicken that the recipe required.
Once I got the chicken home and started reading the recipe properly I realised that I needed to fillet the breasts from the chicken. I read the recipe’s instructions and then, none the wiser, I looked on YouTube for a bit more guidance. Having watched seventeen different videos I took my knife (with a degree of trepidation) to my chicken and after quite a lot of swearing I had pretty much minced one side of it and a leg was missing (thankfully it was one of the chicken’s legs and not one of mine!). Having decided the task was a tad beyond me I popped the chicken, which was more than a little dishevelled, into the fridge and decided to seek help the following day.
On Tuesday morning I went to see the lovely butcher at my local farm shop. I explained that I needed to fillet the breasts from a chicken for the recipe and confessed that I was a bit clueless as to how to do that. He told me that it was no problem, he could easily fillet a chicken for me and that if I watched him while he did it then I’d know how to do it myself next time. You really do get good service in small, independent shops don’t you? So I whipped my slightly down-trodden, legless chicken out of its supermarket carrier bag and popped it on the counter. After staring at my chicken for a few moments the butcher, looking slightly aghast, asked what I was doing. I told him that I already had a chicken so he could just get on with showing me what to do…
Apparently it is not ok to take a supermarket chicken into a local butchers shop and have them butcher it for you….I mean seriously….how selfish is that?! And who knew?! I can tell you now that I won’t be going back and I’ve given them one star and a scathing review on Facebook so that will show them….
Anyway…back to the strange things I have consistently witnessed when visiting local yarn shops…
In one yarn shop, whilst I was busy stroking some skeins, a lady came in and asked the owner for some of that ‘giant wool’ that people use to arm knit blankets. The owner told the lady that she didn’t stock it because it was very bulky to store, and also because she wouldn’t recommend it as a product and provided a few good reasons why. The woman was most put out that she had travelled to the shop only to find that they didn’t have what she wanted. The owner said that the shop does have a website which the lady could check in future, or if she wanted to ring up and ask about a product before coming to the shop then she’d be more than happy to advise on what was stocked. So the lady huffed angrily out of the shop saying she’d get in from somewhere online and slammed the door….only to stick her head back round the door less than ten seconds later, smiling sweetly, to say that when she had her wool she would come back so the shop owner could show her how to do it.
In another local yarn shop I happened to be browsing (buying) on a day when there was a group coming in to start a new CAL. As the ladies came in they were greeted by the owner who handed each of them a pack of yarn and printed instructions and ushered them to seats where tea and coffee were waiting. One lady amongst them said that she didn’t need a yarn pack from the shop as she’d managed to get one online for £2 less than the shop was charging, it didn’t include the pattern, but that was ok because she knew the shop had copies. She then picked up a copy of the pattern, sat herself down, helped herself to a cup of tea and a biscuit and happily started to crochet.
In another….a lady came in with a ball of yarn she bought online. On receiving it she wasn’t entirely happy with the colour and wished she’d gone for the blue rather than the green. Apparently it would be a bit of a ‘faff’ to send it back so the lady wondered if, as the shop stocked the same brand and range, it would be ok if she just swapped it for one in the shop in the colour she preferred? The owner asked if she’d bought it from the shop’s own website and the lady said no, she had ordered it online from somewhere else as they did next day delivery and she’d wanted it quickly but it was the same wool so it was fine.
I could go on…..
Now I’m not sure about you, but something about all of those events sat uncomfortably with me. What I can tell you is that in each case the shop owners dealt with the issues with far more grace than I’d have managed!
All local independent traders have a tough time competing with large retailers. I like to think of my local yarn shop and all the perks that come with it as being a treasure rather than an entitlement, and as it’s such a treasure to me I’m very keen to support it. Woolaballoo moved to Durham from Hexham last year, and I have seen people from Northumberland come into the new shop and be very upset that it’s no longer on their doorstep; it’s simply not as convenient now, they miss it, they hadn’t bought anything from the Hexham shop but now it was a bit too far if they did want something….for those of us nearer to Langley Park than Hexham, their loss is our boon.
Of course, there can be advantages to buying yarn from large online companies…sometimes it’s cheaper, there may be a greater selection, you might find it difficult to get out and about (I know I sometimes do)… I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that you stop using these companies as they do have their place. I do wonder though, if some people ought to stop and think about how valuable their local yarn shop is to them.
What can a local yarn shop offer that an internet giant can’t?
For me there’s so much on offer that it’s difficult to know how to sum it up. I’ve benefitted hugely from so much help and support in my (ongoing) learning of the woolly crafts, not just through the wonderful courses and workshops offered in store, but also when I’ve been stuck of an evening and looked to the Woolaballoo Facebook page and groups for help and advice, or when I’ve popped in with a problem that Lucy has helped me to fix. No amount of YouTube tutorials could ever compare. Then there’s the connection, meeting new people with similar interests, Knit and Natter type events, CALs and KALs, courses in a range of different techniques and styles, asking an actual person if this yarn will work for a particular purpose, knowing exactly what I’m buying….being able to see the colours, touch the fibres and plan colour schemes with the actual yarn in front of me.
Having just spent two hours in Woolaballoo pouring over the West Yorkshire Spinners Gems, I can’t tell you how much of a difference seeing the colours for real makes when you’re trying to pull a palette together! Nor can I stress enough how patient and helpful local yarn shop owners can be! For me these things all matter a great deal and I’d be heartbroken if my local yarn shop closed, as too many do. What if all I was left with was the internet?
I realise that not everyone has such a warm and welcoming local yarn shop, but can I suggest that if your own local yarn shop isn’t getting it right for you that let them know, help them improve rather than forgoing them altogether. If they don’t stock something you love; ask them to consider it…the worst that can happen is for them to say no. If they don’t offer the help and advice that you’d like suggest that they start or ask if they can connect with someone who can.
If you can’t get out and about why not buy from your local yarn shop’s website? Woolaballoo has one https://www.woolaballoo.com/ as do others. If you can buy something in your local yarn shop then DON’T buy it from somewhere else. If you have a problem with yarn that you bought from somewhere else don’t EXPECT your local yarn shop to help (although in my experience most will help if they can, it’s not really fair to spend money elsewhere and then expect support). Please work with your local yarn shop because you’ll miss it when it’s not there….
On that note…..maybe I owe my local butcher an apology…..
(PS….I have never, and would never actually do this to my lovely local butcher but people DO do this to local yarn shops and other small businesses almost every day!!)
(PPS…I still cannot fillet a chicken breast despite numerous demonstrations from my lovely local butcher!)
(PPPS….sorry for the rant…I’ll be more jolly next time but I know how hard this time of year is for small businesses!)
Love Sara. x