Running a Small Yarn Shop

My name is Jess, and I run Fairlight Fibers, an online yarn shop that specializes in artisan and locally-sourced yarns and notions. It’s been a somewhat-challenging and delightful journey to arrive at this point, and I thought it might be fun to share some of that journey here, an idea which Karin has been kind enough to indulge despite her better judgement, I’m sure.

This is seriously the best photo of me, like, ever. I blame it on the shawl.

Of course, every fiber-artist dreams of owning a yarn shop. My yarn shop fantasies began when I was in my early-twenties, and my mom dragged me into her LYS to buy, of all things, needlepoint yarn. In my memory, that shop has taken on a mythical quality; it was a cosy yarn Shangri-la, filled with glorious squish and dark woods and vintage glass cases and the warm, musty smell of raw wool. I would sit in the overstuffed floral chairs in the back of the shop and just sniff. It was then, even though I only did a little hand-sewing and embroidery, that I first decided I needed to own a yarn shop.

I was surprisingly dogged in my pursuit of this goal, considering that I was actually also a very serious student of writing and literature. At some point in my mid-twenties, I came into a tiny bit of money from my grandmother. I floated the idea of quitting my Masters program and opening a yarn shop in the small retirement community in Arkansas where my mom lived. Everyone, from my mother, to my boyfriend, to my friends said it was a bad idea. What did I know about running a store? Why would I want to stop writing my thesis? (Okay, no one actually asked me that). By then I  was an avid crocheter, but I still didn’t knit. My ambitions struck everyone as silly. I was near my goal of gaining that highly-lucrative English Masters Degree (cough). Why would I throw that away on something as ridiculous as yarn? So my grandmother’s money eventually bought me a new car, and the whole idea was forgotten.

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Socks! Someday there will be TWO of them!

Or at least, that’s what everyone else thought. I learned to knit, and became obsessed. Years and years passed, but I was still privately dreaming about that yarn shop. I built castles of yarn shops in my head: sleek, modern shops with marble pedestals topped by sculptural merino; warm, rustic shops furnished with mismatched cabinets and tables; shops with baskets of yarn that overflowed like a farmer’s market bonanza; shops with French candy store glamor, vaguely snooty and intimidating.

In real life, I became a teacher, had a child, got divorced, reunited with my high school sweetheart, sold my house and moved, aged and dreamed and aged some more… and then one dreary November day, I was in a car accident. It wasn’t a very serious accident: low speed, low impact, but somehow the seatbelt caught my shoulder a bit strangely and I ended up badly injured. I sat at home for months, unable to work as I waited for surgery. What to do? I couldn’t knit. I couldn’t type fast enough to write. Bored out of my mind, and with a bit of money in savings from the sale of my house, I finally, finally took the plunge: I decided to start my yarn shop.

Actually-finished socks! Pointlessly knitted for my son’s growing feet.

It would be small, I reasoned, and totally online. Hardly the exotic yarn den of my dreams, but realistic. My friend who worked in marketing helped me narrow down something she called a Unique Business Idea: “Look, ‘Yarns I Like’ is NOT a Unique Business Idea, Jess!” In the end, I went with artisan and locally-sourced because those things matter to me, so I could be passionate in promoting them (also, they involved Yarns I Like). I found suppliers, settled on a name, had a graphic-designer-friend-of-a-friend create my logo, spent just $5000 on stock, and was off and running! My goal was to own a little business that would treat customers the way I liked to be treated: with friendly courtesy always, excellent products, and fun treats. I thought it would earn us a few hundred extra each month, and be a fun distraction from reading Crime and Punishment for the sixteenth time.

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The “heart stoppers” are the single best reason to own these needles, I swear!

I’ve learned a lot since then, both about running a yarn shop, and about myself. For example, I spent a crazy amount of time debating how my shop should look online. I thought of Purl Soho and their sleek, museum-sophistication. That didn’t seem achievable, given that I’m a complete dork. I considered that warm, earthy yarn shop I’d so loved, but the internet doesn’t lend itself to antique display cases and undefined wooly smells. The graphic designer had created a pretty red-and-yellow logo for me, rejecting any pleas to have EVERY color in there, and so there it was: my Scarlet Letter. How appropriate! And it was sophisticated and sweet (and did not imply anything adulterous, though the joke still makes me giggle). So I would have a neutral, professional, elegant little shop — like a distracting wee jewel, not demanding or overly distinctive.

See? It’s totally pretty and sophisticated. Totally!!! ❤️

It was immediately apparent that I was doomed. Whether through chance, or some sort of divine intervention, the yarns I’d chosen were ridiculously popular and under-served. The more unique yarns I carried, the more unique yarns my customers wanted me to add. And the more I injected my own personality (which is decidedly NOT neutral or elegant, as you may have gathered) into the shop, the more yarns I sold. It was crazy! Gone was the sense that I had to create something sophisticated and clean. In came the heart emojis and colorful banners and triple exclamation points!!! I mean, I’m genuinely excited about yarn!!! Really!!!

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I’m surrounded by the prettiest yarns EVER! This is why I’m so excited about yarns!!!

Since then, I have more than quintupled my stock, taking over our spare bedroom with precarious stacks of yarn bins that threaten to topple down and kill a wayward family member at any moment. Every day, my beloved man (who works from home) texts me resignedly to say: “There’s another GIGANTIC box of yarn here.” He also runs all my orders to the post office for me, which he says at least guarantees he’ll put on actual pants that day. He’s very tolerant, especially since I knit him a pair of cashmere socks.

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This goofball completes me! Here he is tolerating my fangirling at a Bernie Sanders rally in the icy cold after, like, six hundred hours in line. As you can see, I’ve only slightly damaged his psyche.

My every waking second that isn’t spent teaching or driving or eating is spent thinking about yarn, talking about yarn, playing with yarn and planning on acquiring more yarn. It has taken over my life! I mean, in a good way, but still. Fortunately, my family is reasonably tolerant as long as they receive knitted goods at regular intervals.

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See, these are actually sophisticated and elegant. This is why I find it so hard to figure out when/where to wear them.

I was originally asked to write about “what I’m currently working on.” I have lots of knitting projects, it’s true. But you know what I’m actually working on? My yarn shop. Someday I hope to have a physical shop. I’ll probably try to make it all cosy and vintage and yet sleek and sophisticated, and fail miserably, ending up with something that is more reflective of highly dorky and rainbow-loving and enthusiastically excited me. Now I just need someone to tell me how to translate exclamation points into interior decor!

Actually, I’ll probably figure that out all on my own.

2017-03-07 12.20.18

6 thoughts on “Running a Small Yarn Shop

  1. Thank you for being my guest, Jess, and for sharing some insight into your lovely shop 🙂 I enjoy the quirks as well as the gorgeous yarns you share.
    Also, I love the projects you’ve shared. I don’t think I could pick a favorite, they all have something. Though the socks… I hope you get over the dreaded SSS soon 😉


  2. How wonderful that you’re on this amazing journey of having your own LYS. The joy at discovering and having the ability to share all theses wonderful yarns that others might miss out on is always a thrill. I know someday you’ll have that brick and mortar shop but in the meantime the internet allows you to get started in a small way towards that goal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It’s been a real thrill indeed to find these great yarns and make them more available to folks. I actually vacillate on the brick-and-mortar. There’s something quite appealing about possibly working in my pajamas forever :).


  3. What a wonderful and inspiring story! I dream of one day owning my own embroidery store, this story was just what I needed as I definitely feel I am flying under the radar with these dreams at the moment!

    Liked by 1 person

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