Bluefield Yarn Company proves that niche retail is important to revitalizing small towns.
Karen Rideout’s charming little shop has everything you’d expect from a community yarn store. The shelves are lined with hundreds of skeins of yarn in rainbow hues and varied textures. In one corner, you’ll find cute Binkwaffle dumpling bags and needle rolls. In another, a display of shawl pins and buttons. If you are looking for knitting needles, there are bamboo varieties and metal varieties and even circular varieties, in addition to a range of crochet hooks. There are patterns, kits, and instructional books and magazines. You’ll find everything you need to craft that special scarf or blanket or sweater or sock.
But the Bluefield Yarn Company offers so much more. It’s a special gathering place—a place where people come together not only to knit and crochet, but to unwind, connect, and build friendships. And as any knitter knows, knitting is cheaper than therapy. Rideout loves the community-building aspect of her business. “I hold Stitch Nights every month,” she explains. “People bring projects they are working on and socialize. You may share ideas, or you may not talk about anything related to knitting or crocheting. It brings people together. They come here to meet other people who are like them and share similar interests.”
Rideout, who goes to conferences to learn new techniques to share with her customers, also holds skill-building classes. “Classes are confidence builders,” she says. “One of the things I love about being a shop owner is that I can still be a teacher and an educator and a learner at the same time. I’m not just sitting in my shop all day waiting on people to buy yarn.”
Knitting and crocheting are tactile arts—the colors, smells, and textures of the yarn are important—so Rideout started Yarn Tasting events. Don’t worry, no one’s putting anything in their mouths. But they do come to try different types and textures and weights of yarns. “The Yarn Tastings are a great way to try different things that you haven’t tried, before making a big investment,” she says.
As online shopping options are gobbling up the retail industry, Bluefield Yarn Company isn’t feeling threatened. “You can get great deals on yarn online, but you can’t touch it, match colors, feel how it drapes, or see what the fibers are doing,” Rideout says. “At the shop, you can collaborate. If you make a mistake, you can learn how to fix it. You can’t get that online. Knitters and crocheters like to interact with the yarn.”
You can see that interaction as soon as someone steps into the shop. The first thing everyone does after walking in the door is to stop and take it all in—the vibrant colors and patterns. Then they walk around the shop, feeling the skeins, smelling them, and unwinding them to feel the fibers.
The Bluefield Yarn Company proudly carries local products. “There’s an Alpaca farmer in Bluefield, Virginia, that spins yarn from her Alpacas. I carry her yarn. I also carry Appalachian Baby, a company out of Maxwelton, that has patterns, kits, and cotton yarns all for babies.”
Rideout and her shop have knitted themselves into the fabric of Bluefield. “I just love Bluefield,” she says. “I love the mountains, the seasons, and especially the people. Everybody is very giving and always trying to make things better for others. It is a beautiful, beautiful place to live.” And now, it is a beautiful place to shop.
written and photographed by Nikki Bowman