DownTown Knits is as much about knitting relationships as it is about working with yarn.
When Michele Riggs opened the store in May 2010, she wanted a place where people could meet each other.
“I felt like we needed a yarn shop focused on the community,” she said. “But I wondered whether anyone would come.”
More than four years later, she says she has surpassed her goal.
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“People have met here and made new relationships because of this shop,” she said.
Warm wood floors and skeins of colorful yarn lead the way to the gathering place: sofas and comfortable chairs meant for visiting. The sign above reads “Sit, Talk, Gossip, Laugh.” And that’s just what happens, Riggs says. Throughout the week, customers come to sit and knit. Formal knit nights are so popular that it can be hard to find a seat.
“It’s great for me, too,” Riggs said. “I ask them about yarn I am ordering. It’s my own little market research group. What better way than to have customers tell you what they want?”
In the early days, she set out a coffee pot and a teapot and let customers help themselves. She soon noticed the coffee pot was sitting idle, while the teapot was getting a workout. She eventually partnered with locally owned Tin Roof Teas and began offering loose leaf teas.
Riggs points to a painting on the wall, saying it is representative of the community she has built at her shop. Artist Susan Brabeau had been commissioned to paint a scene that would be used for a puzzle and asked Riggs whether she could use the shop as her backdrop.
When the painting was complete and Brabeau brought it for Riggs to see, DownTown Knit customers insisted that it had to stay in the store. But the $2,500 price tag was too steep for Riggs.
“But my customers said, ‘We’ve got to figure this out,’ ” she said. “We raised the money in two months. That’s the community part of it.”
Riggs said the shop continues to evolve. Last month, she added a focus on knitwear and dressmaking. Bolts of fabric are now displayed among coordinating yarn and patterns are available.
“I found a lot of knitters sew,” she said. “I’m constantly changing things.”
She is gearing up for the holiday season with a table of project suggestions. She also has pre-made items for non-knitters who are looking for a gift.
“I get a lot of foot traffic,” she said. “Last year I put out a few hats and they flew off the shelves. This year, I’m going to be more prepared.”
Knitting has seen a surge in popularity in the past few years, Riggs said.
“More young people are starting to knit. In the college arena, it has exploded,” she said. “Knitting is very therapeutic. We call it yoga for your mind.”