Yarn store builds tight-knit community
May 8, 2013
The colorful skeins of yarn stacked in the cubbies of a Minden Village suite represent a craft that's been passed down from generation to generation.
For Gardnerville residents Jennifer Huntley and Kim Christensen, the skeins also represent the building blocks of Pioneer Yarn Company, which relocated to a 1,900-square-foot suite in February.
Huntley is the owner, Christensen the general manager.
"The challenge now is bringing in new customers," Huntley said on Friday. "How do we find new people and teach them to knit and crochet? How do we get more young people involved?"
Like many who frequent her store, Huntley learned the craft as a child.
"It's something we all did when we were young," she said. "Then our families got in the way, raising our own kids, and we started again when we were older."
Huntley, originally from East Bay, spent 35 years in the mortgage industry, more specifically in the field of credit risk. She retired in 2004 and moved to Gardnerville with her husband.
"The beauty," Huntley said when asked why they'd moved. "Both my husband and I were raised in small farming communities in California."
Huntley still works as a part-time consultant for a legal firm in Chicago; she's an expert witness in mortgage fraud cases. But yarn became her passion when Pioneer Yarn first opened in 2005.
"Knitters and crocheters spent many happy years stitching incredible projects," she said. "I have been a customer since the store opened and progressed from a beginner to an 'almost' expert."
At the end of last year, the store's previous owners, Wayne and Cherita Dujardin, announced they were moving to Washington state.
"I didn't want the store to go away," said Huntley. "I haven't done retail before, but I really thought I could use my 35 years of business skills and make a go of it."
In January, Huntley purchased the business assets, retained the expertise of Christensen, and moved the store just south to the Minden Village. The two women, along with two additional sales associates, have the benefit of a loyal customer base — avid practitioners of an age-old craft.
The challenge, as mentioned before, is turning the next generation onto yarn.
"It's a great way to pass the time and keep your hands busy," said Christensen. "It's a great exercise for the mind, too."
Like Huntley, Christensen hails from a different industry. She worked 15 years as an exposition manager, planning large conventions and trade shows across the country for several different trade organizations.
The experience has carried over nicely to Pioneer Yarn. Her layout and interior displays catch the eye.
"I was retired as well when I saw Pioneer Yarn and stopped in," she said. "I've worked here since."
The two women explained that knitting, which uses a pair of needles, and crocheting, which uses a single hook, are both valid techniques for making hats, gloves, socks and sweaters.
"The yarn's the same," said Huntley, "but we probably see more knitters."
They argued that the hobby is not only good for mind and body, but also one's pocket book.
"People think we're expensive, but we're not," said Huntley. "We're not Walmart. We don't sell yarn by the pound. But we have a wide selection of yarn and a wide range of prices. You can make a pair of socks for $8, or you can make a pair of socks for $40."
"We see a lot of homemade gifts," added Christensen. "Especially when the economy turned, we saw a lot of people stay with their hobby."
Above all, Huntley and Christensen want to create a sense of community. In the corner of their new store sit a sofa and two armchairs. Beside the furniture is a bookshelf stacked with binders, each full of knitting and crocheting patterns. There's also free wireless Internet.
Besides instructional classes, the shop hosts a free "group therapy" session every Thursday, 3-5 p.m., during which visitors can sit, chat, swap ideas, and work on projects.
"If you come in, buy yarn, pick out a pattern, and then go home and get stuck, you can always come back in, and our sales staff will make sure you get it," said Huntley. "There's a real sense here of wanting to make sure everyone is really successful."
A grand opening for the new store is scheduled for Friday and Saturday during regular business hours, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
There will be hourly raffles, free workshops with local designer Romi Hill from noon to 3 p.m. on both days, a spinning presentation of local wool by Marilyn Elligott from 10 a.m. to noon on both days, and refreshments.
There also will be a chance to sign up for the Charity Knitting Club, which makes hats for local charities, with the goal of reaching 100 hats by Sept. 1.
Located at 1653 Lucerne Street, Suite B, Pioneer Yarn Company's regular business hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday, and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday.
For more information, call 392-3336 or visit http://www.pioneeryarn.com.