Commentary and conversations about life in Richmond, Indiana

Community Life

Sam and John Purcell on knitting together business and community

Ply Fiber Arts stands out on Richmond’s Main Street as one of the most colorful, creative and inviting retail spaces you can find here. But for owners Sam and John Purcell it’s much more than the building and business they opened together in 2013, it’s a jumping off point for all kinds of community improvement efforts.

Listen in as I talk with Sam and John about what led them to choose small business ownership in downtown, what it’s been like as relatively younger people trying to make a difference here, and what their hopes are for Richmond in the years ahead.


The below transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors or omissions.

Chris: I wanted to start with a little bit of just information about the store that you run. I know that people drive by it and may be aware of it. But can you just tell us a little bit about what Ply Fiber Arts is and what someone can find there if they walk through the door?

Enjoying the streetscape on “Knit in Public Day”

Sam: Yeah. Ply Fiber Arts is a fiber arts based store. We specialize in supplies and classes for currently knitting, crocheting, weaving, and a little bit of spinning. We also sell a lot of the handmade things that people who work in our shop produce. And we have a small gallery section of locally made items, fair trade baskets, and a little bit of soaps and other interesting things.

Chris: So it’s way more than yarn or fiber. I think your website talks about sort of everything related to hand making things. You can probably find something there. Does that cover it?

Sam: We are kind of specialized at the moment to the fiber arts, but we’re in the process of moving into the building next door and hoping to expand a little bit on what that means.

Chris: Awesome. Can you give us a preview of what that might include?

Sam: We’re trying to keep a few things kind of secret. We are going to be expanding our studio space a lot, being able to offer a lot more with classes and group experiences. We’re really trying to push the business more in the direction of being a unique experience, an experience you’re not going to be able to get online compared to in person.

Chris: Yeah. And I think you were doing a little of that during the recent Richmond Meltdown event, where you were inviting people in. I think it was some kind of craft creation. How did that go?

Sam: It went well. It rained quite a bit on Saturday, so I think that slowed down the traffic on Main Street a little bit. Yeah. We did a little craft event making snowmen with kids, and it seemed like they had a lot of fun.

Chris: Awesome. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the history of how you came to be running this business and have this building. What made you end up in this place, both Richmond as a city and in this business and building? How did you get here?

Sam: Well, John and I both are from Richmond. We both mostly grew up in the Richmond, Centerville area. We both left, went to college, and came back. The store has been in the downtown since 2007. It was opened by Jim and Vicki Hair’s Unwind Yarn Shop. And I don’t think either of us had the intention of owning a yarn shop at any point, but it just kind of fell into our laps. We had a conversation with Vicki one day, and next thing I knew we were in the process of buying a downtown building and a downtown business and planning to make this our home.

Chris: I remember talking with Vicki and with other people around town at the time when they were opening Unwind, and you could tell there was a little bit of sentiment about: Will Richmond be able to support a yarn shop? Is that something that’s so specialized or so different? How have you come to think about that as something that can thrive in a town that’s not small, but that is smaller than lots of other places where one might find such a store? How does that work?

John: One of the really awesome things about our store and about it being in Richmond is, Richmond does both locally support it with the native residents here, as well as with Earlham College and the students that are there and their parents, when their parents come to visit, as well as students at the other universities that we have in Richmond. And then on top of that, we are as a whole, as Richmond, a hub that is perfectly centered between a lot of other cities. And it allows others to easily travel to us and access things that we have here. And so as a shop, we have a massive range of customers. We don’t just reach customers in Richmond and Centerville, in Cambridge City, in Hagerstown. We reach out. We have people who travel from beyond Indianapolis from when they’re traveling to see family from far beyond Chicago. We have customers that make our shop a stopping place when they’re traveling from point to point once a year. And we’ll only see that customer once a year, but they love stopping in our shop.

Chris: That’s amazing.

John: I think our shop as a whole, the atmosphere that is created by the shop that Sam has put so much work into, and I’ve tried to help with when I can. And also, again what Sam said, the experience of the shop. It’s things that you can’t find online. You might be able to shop online, but you can’t get the experience that we offer in the store and you definitely can’t get the help that we offer when you have a question, or a concern, or you’re unsure of something working on a project or starting a project. The things that we can provide are far beyond what you can find on the internet.

Chris: Yeah. Talk a little bit more about what that experience is. I know it’s kind of the holy grail for retailers to figure out what might bring someone through the door of a smaller or locally owned business, as compared to shopping online, or going to a big box store. And without revealing all your trade secrets, what is that experience when someone’s in the store that’s different from everywhere else that they could go?

Sam: Well, I think it’s important that we get to know our customers. They’re more than just customers to us. They do become our friends. We get to know the specific skills that someone is needed to learn more about, or the product that is most likely to draw them in that they’re going to get excited about. We can kind of cater that experience in the shop to our customers as we get to know them more and more over the years. And one of the neat things about the fiber arts, it tends to create a sense of community, so people are always looking in the fiber arts especially to find ways to be able to connect with other fiber artists. So when we do classes and group experiences in the shop, people just really enjoy that.

Chris: It also seems like you’ve put a lot of time into just the aesthetics of the space. You can tell just driving by or walking by the store that you’ve invested heavily in the window display and the colors. For anyone who’s been in the store, it’s just a beautiful space to be in. I don’t know that you can even describe it until you’re actually there experiencing it. I assume that’s been a part of your thinking, that that’s been very intentional.

Sam: Yeah. Thank you for the compliment. Yeah. I actually have a background in art and design, so that’s something that’s constantly on my mind and probably business wise is one of the things that comes most naturally to me, is selecting our product, putting together color palettes, putting together displays, figuring how to best curate the space to make it enjoyable for others. It’s especially fun because our busy season, I like to describe it as being the opposite of the ice cream business, I guess, because we would be kind of at one of our peak times this time of year when it’s cold. It tends to be kind of gray and snowy out like it is today. Our shop, we really try to carry a lot of bright, fun colors and textures that just make you instantly feel cozy and inspired, especially this time of year.

Chris: You mentioned building community with your customers. It also seems like you’ve taken a lot of time to build broader community within the downtown area and Richmond as a whole. It seems like not too long after you took over the building and the store, you were also then involved with some meetings and conversations and sort of brainstorming efforts with downtown merchants. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s been like?

John: One of the things that Sam and I talked about heavily when we were starting even to consider the idea of purchasing the shop, let alone purchasing an entire building and doing the renovations and things associated with that, is that we felt that Richmond was someplace that we could make a difference, not only because it’s our hometown and it’s someplace that we grew up. But it gives us the opportunity as a city and all the things that the city does offer, low cost of living and ease of development. On top of being close to our families, we could help develop community because of all of those other things kind of meshing.

When we needed help that was above and beyond what we could manage on our own, we knew that we could contact our families and that they could pitch in and help us whenever possible. And we knew that the city was someplace that we knew and had grown up in. So we kind of already knew some of the quirks of the city and some of the things that we needed to focus on with that. And then as we purchased the shop and started kind of settling into the downtown as a whole, we started getting to know other business owners and finding some of the needs and wants that they had that we all felt were unmet at the time, or under met at the time, things that the city itself was unable to provide because it wasn’t the city’s responsibility, or it wasn’t within their scope at the time. And things that even other organizations, little holes that were missing in other organizations. And we started focusing on those things as a group with other business owners downtown, mainly because we wanted to develop a true community.

Our goal was to renovate the building and live in the third floor, which we now do. But before we did that, we wanted to make sure that we felt like we truly had a community downtown, and so we’ve always had that goal. That’s been kind of our focal point since the beginning.

Chris: Can you think of a good example of an unmet need or just an issue that, as a group talking with other downtown merchants and business owners, that you’ve been able to address, or take on, or improve over the time that you’ve been doing that?

John: I think a really good example is something that has finally changed recently and has been really awesome that it has, and that is sometimes communication between individual small businesses that may not have any employees, or may have just one or two employees besides the owners themselves, a lot of times we don’t have time to find a way to go and talk to city officials about things that are lacking in the downtown or things that we need on an individual basis, on a group basis, or even for projects that we’re working on as a group. So the current administration has actually put in place an individual, who his entire job is to liaise between us as small businesses and the administration. Right now that’s Scott Alexander, and so he does a multitude of different things. He’s been working with the stellar communities and kind of keeping the communication with that on track. But he’s also been helping us. He helped us all out as downtown businesses with Small Business Saturday when we ran that.

And that is just one of those little things that until recently was kind of a hole where we were having a hard time communicating individual small needs, and we were having to work on different ways to get things done. And now we actually have a specific individual, who we know if we need something we can talk to on a regular basis and he’s always open to helping and finding innovative solutions to things, which is nice.

Chris: That’s great.

John: And there are a lot of other people as well, who’ve really helped us along the way, within the city. I don’t mean to be too narrow in that, but it’s just a quick example of something like that.

Chris: Sure. Yeah, go ahead.

Sam: I was going to say, the downtown business group, some of the things that we’ve also been really proud of, our goal is always to try to advocate for the people who are invested in this neighborhood, whether that’s the businesses, property owners, nonprofits. We’ve really strived to try to give them a collective voice and having conversations on how difficult it can be to maintain commercial properties or be a small business in a time where the climate as far as retail especially is really shifting. And finding solutions that really help them as far as being able to coordinate hours together or events, create a support network where, if I need something from another business owner, they have the ability to be there for me and vice versa.

Chris: Yeah. If you were talking to someone who was thinking about starting a business, a retail oriented business, today in Richmond, Indiana, what do you think would be one of the biggest challenges that they might face? And how would you guide them in working through that challenge or around that challenge?

Sam: The first thing I would say is, make sure that, one, what you’re doing is because you want to be a small business owner more than the thing that you’re hoping to provide in and of itself. Being a small business owner, regardless of what you’re doing, it is a job in and of itself maintaining a business. And then from there, I would say whatever you’re catering your small business around, make sure that there’s a need within your community. It wouldn’t make sense for me to open a yarn shop here if there were already three in the community. Then you’ll end up with over saturation and the community isn’t able to support that. So making sure that there’s a need and making sure that you have the ability to meet that need to the best of your ability.

And then from there, I think it’s really important to consider within the community how best to locate yourself to be able to provide those needs. The neighborhood that is going to put you in the location that is easiest for your customer to get to and find, and give you the opportunity to grow your business.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. When I went through the experience of starting a business with my business partner, Mark, we were very young, I mean late teens, early twenties. And we were creating a tech business and we had an office on Main Street. And I remember showing up to some community meetings or conversations and trying to be a part of those. And some people were very welcoming and inviting of that, and others seemed put off by our relatively young age. And I wonder what your experience has been like as relatively young people running a business in town and taking leadership roles in local community. Has age been a factor and have you felt either more welcomed or less welcomed as parts of those community conversations because of your age?

Sam: Yeah. It absolutely is challenging. It’s something that we’re probably very aware of any time we’re going into a meeting. There’s times where I would say we’re being included in conversations because we are millennials that represent the growth that the city needs so badly, and the age group that really, we need to be attracting back to Richmond and retaining. But then also at times, it can be a struggle. We especially run into road blocks sometimes with other community members that are old enough to be our parents or more. It can be tough to convince them that despite maybe our lack of experience, we can bring ideas and skills and energy to the conversation and convince those people to make space for younger people.

Chris: When you run up against those cases of either a built in bias that you’re younger, and therefore must not know what you’re talking about, or something like that, or just the bias that, hey, that idea sounds like something we tried 10 years ago, 20 years ago and it wasn’t an amazing success that’s still going, and therefore we shouldn’t try it again. Have you found a particularly good technique for sort of busting through those biases and helping people see that there’s value in the way that you think and what you’re bringing in the conversation?

Sam: Definitely a lot of patience and a lot of determination. I don’t think either of us accept no as an answer.

John: No. And I think that we’ve found that sometimes even when it is hard for us, because we are busy and we do have a lot going on, sometimes we just have to buckle down and accept that us pushing forward and doing something is going to be the proof that someone else needs that they can trust us, or that they can listen to the advice that we have, or the perspective that we have. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t, but we have found that from time to time, we just have to really kind of buckle down and push forward with something that we feel is necessary or positive and a positive impact, and just pursue it with or without individuals assistance who may be negative, or not necessarily condescending but …

Sam: There’s definitely been times where we’ve had to pave the way for the change we want to see in this community by example. There were plenty of naysayers to the idea of us wanting to live downtown and be on East Main Street. And a handful of years later, we absolutely love living downtown. We enjoy it more and more, the more time that we’re down here. And we have a lot of neighbors at this point. There’s more and more people gravitating towards the center of the city rather than pushing away from it.

Chris: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about the building updates that you’ve done. You’re living above the store or in the upper floor of your building. Is that right?

Sam: Yes.

John working in 915 E Main

John: That is correct. Our building is three stories. It is a large first and second floor and a slightly smaller third floor. The third floor is about 900 to 1000 square feet, so it is about the front third of our building on the third floor. The first and second floors are about 2500 square feet. So the third floor was originally residential and still had an existing apartment with electricity but no running water that was still in place. And so we bought the business and building knowing that we were planning on moving in, and so we pushed forward with that, worked with the city on permits and planning and getting state plan releases for designing our living space.

And we actually ended up having to, because of how some things had aged over time and some neglect that had gone on, had to rip out basically everything all the way down to the brick walls and the floor and ceiling in the entire 900 square foot space, and then build back from there. So it took quite a bit longer than we initially planned. And I will say to anyone that is ever considering buying a building, if you think you have the means to do it, I absolutely encourage it. If you can take care of it and update it, that is wonderful. But always expect that things will take longer or be more expensive than you initially planned.

Sam: These big, old buildings are definitely very quirky. Once you think that you have them figured out, they throw you for a loop.

Chris: Yeah. It seems like as soon as you finish one project, there’s a little roof leak here or a little bit of dust coming from somewhere here and you have to figure that out, tear something open. Did you all do a lot of that work yourselves or did you work with contractors and others?

John: I’m pretty lucky. I grew up with my dad, is a firefighter as well, and I joined the fire department here locally a few years ago. And I grew up with him, on his days off he did construction. So I grew up doing construction and have become part of his business as well. So I still do construction on my days off from the fire house. Then before I was with the fire department, we actually did all of the renovations that we are legally permitted to do, we did ourselves to try and avoid excessive costs. So a lot of sweat equity went into our third floor, a little bit into our first floor, and then a lot into our façade as well. The building façade was in desperate need of renovation, and so when we first acquired the building, that was actually the first project we took on besides getting the shop back open. We renovated, tuckpointed all of the brick from the second floor up all the way through the third floor. Completely re-added all of the decorative cornice work that’s at the top of the building because it had all been ripped off years ago.

Chris: Wow.

John: So we completely restructured that, rebuilt it. Put in all of … The windows that were in place were not the windows from the building originally. They were historic windows that had been gutted out of something else and were screwed in place just to seal up the front of the building. Or there were also several panels that were just plywood painted to look like windows. And so we actually had custom made windows designed by Pella to fit in the original spaces, look historically accurate, but update the building to a more energy efficient status. And so we put quite a bit of money into the façade, quite a bit of time into the façade, and then moved on to the third floor and spent quite a bit of time renovating it.

Sam: Yeah. We were also able to do all of that because we did come into all of this very young, both of us right out of college, buying a massive commercial building and a business. We were able to apply for a grant through the UEA for the façade of our building, and had the ability to match the 20,000 grant with our labor.

Chris: That’s great. UEA is the Urban Enterprise Association. The two of you seem to have kind of an ideal pairing in your backgrounds, design, aesthetic, retail sensibility, and then construction and all those skills. Do you think that Richmond has resources for someone who comes in without necessarily having that background and wants to start a business? I mean, there’s the UEA. There are other entities that can provide some kinds of financial support or business support. Do we have enough resources there? Is there more that we could be doing?

Sam: I don’t know that there can ever be enough resources for supporting local people wanting to invest in this community. I would definitely love to see those opportunities continue to build.

Chris: Is there a gap or a hole that you notice above others? Or is it just a general need for help in those areas?

John: I would say that above and beyond anything, it is a general gap. There are lots of little things that are sometimes hard to fill. The reality is, if you have the drive and the desire, I think that Richmond has the majority of what we currently need to get almost anything done. Sometimes it can be a little bit difficult or a little bit of extra work because it’s hard to figure out exactly what is needed or who can fill that hole or that gap that may be in place across the board. But generally speaking, I think that almost everything is there to an extent. But it kind of goes back to what Sam said about being a business owner and that coming first. To be a building owner, you really have to have that drive and desire to care for that building and to make that building better. You can’t be going into it thinking that it’s a quick and easy investment that requires minimal time and effort, and you’ll get a maximum reward from it with little input.

Sam: And we’ve really advocated for in the downtown, people starting to think about these buildings long-term rather than: What gets us by for another decade? What makes this building look the most contemporary right now? What are the things we can be doing with these buildings to help them last another 100 years instead of 10? Yeah, that’s one of the areas that I would love to see our community supporting and finding more resources to encourage because we’ve already lost a few of our really great architectural treasures in this downtown area. We don’t want to lose any more.

Chris: Yeah. What you’re describing to me sounds like you both have multiple full-time jobs in the sense that you’re running the store. And John, you work as a firefighter you said. And then you’re also involved in community in all these different areas. I mean, I guess I wonder how you find time for that. I remember when I was running a business here, that identity took on those multiple layers and it could consume all of your time every day if you wanted to get involved. So how do you find the balance? How do you figure out where to draw the line to saying, “Well, here’s a community issue that we might want to be involved in but we don’t have time, or for our own sanity, or sleep schedule. We’re not going to”?

Sam: It is about finding a balance, and sometimes we’ve been better at that than other times. But we really try to take a step back every now and then and look at what we’re most passionate about. And what are the things that are pulling us away from the things that energize us rather than exhaust us? And try to refocus our energy. I think with doing so many things, you have to be constantly checking in to make sure that you’re still headed in the path that you want to go.

John: And I think with that, what Sam is shooting at, is much like with a good small business owner, with a good small business, with a business plan, you reevaluate that plan on a regular basis to make sure that you are still taking your business in an appropriate direction and that is still an effective direction for your business. And I think that community development and building ownership as well are both things that you need to treat similarly. You need to reevaluate on a regular basis to make sure that you still have an effective direction both for yourself and for what you’re trying to accomplish. Nothing gets done if you burn yourself out to the point of not wanting to do anything or not being able to do anything. So continually rechecking to make sure that you are still heading in a direction that is healthy both for you and for what you’re working on will keep you, I guess, running in that game a lot longer.

Chris: Sam, you were recently recognized by the Wayne County Area Chamber with, I believe it was the Bob Rosa Buy Local Award. Is that right?

Sam: Yeah.

Chris: What was that like to be recognized that way and to be a part of that celebration?

Sam: Well, to be completely honest, I’m not always great at being the center of attention. So I was so honored, and it’s great to put the amount of work and volunteer effort that we do into this community, and have others recognize it. But if you were at the event, you probably noticed I was probably off that stage as quick as I was on it.

Chris: Did either of you know Bob Rosa?

Sam: Unfortunately, no. We’ve heard a lot about him. I know a lot of people who were close to him, but never had the pleasure of meeting him.

Chris: Yeah. I had the fortunate experience of working with him a little bit at the Wayne County Foundation. And yeah, he was just someone who you could feel the passion for small business and local community development just running through us veins, and his excitement and his care and intention for that long-term thinking was very present and it strikes me as incredibly appropriate that you all, you Sam, would be recognized in his name because it feels like there’s a connection and a kinship there, even if you weren’t in touch with him directly. So congratulations on that.

Sam: Thank you.

Chris: It’s exciting. It seems hard to understate, or overstate I should say, how much what you all are doing seems to be this ideal that when Richmond and other communities talk about what we want when it comes to economic development and to community building, to have young people grow up in the community, return to the community college educated, investing in local business and local real estate, business building, restoring and updating an old building. So you’re kind of living out this dream and I applaud you for it. I hope that others in the community see that. And it’s not that everyone should do that exact same thing or follow that exact same path, but it seems like we have a lot to learn from it.

I wonder what you see right now, thinking more broadly about Richmond, as some of our biggest challenges as a community and some of our biggest opportunities. When you think about your hopes for the next year or two ahead, what would you love to see happening and what challenges do we need to address along the way?

Sam: You want to do it, John?

John: Sure. In the next few years, kind of as a whole, I think that one of the great things that we are going to be seeing already due to programs that are already in place and things that are already happening, is a massive amount of building renovation throughout the downtown that’s really going to have almost this shock and awe campaign effect for a lot of the downtown because of how huge the changes are going to be all of a sudden. And I know that generally speaking, I know it doesn’t always directly affect the downtown, but there is a lot of construction going on around the downtown right now. And that can be both very frustrating from time to time for business owners and for people who are trying to shop downtown or get to a business that they need to get to within the downtown.

But once all of that is done and with all of the things that are already coming with building renovations and some of the renovations that are happening with parts of Main Street, it’s just in the next two years, we’re going to see such a huge change in how the downtown feels and looks and the atmosphere of the downtown. So I think that is probably one of the most exciting things going on right now for me personally, is seeing all of those things develop. I think that we are also going to see a slow and steady progress towards more living spaces downtown, and I think that’s healthy. The reason I say that slow and steady is healthy is because we do always have to be careful as we pursue the downtown, that we develop safe living spaces.

And coming from a fire department background, it’s one of those things that innate for me that we don’t want to rush into developing more living space downtown and potentially creating unsafe hazards. So I see us slowly progressing towards more living spaces downtown, and I think that continued slow progression can be hard for some people because some people want to see a big change quick. But that slow and steady progression towards more living space is exciting for me, but I’m glad that it is a progressive movement and not a rapid movement, because I think that can lead to some problems.

Chris: Yeah. It seems like if someone does not spend their days working downtown, it’s easy to see how someone could drive through, and especially right now with the construction and snow and mud and sand everywhere, to look at the buildings that are empty and to focus on the negatives and the worries about businesses that have closed or may be in danger of closing. What do you say to someone who is not engaged with the details as you all are? How can they come to understand more about what’s possible in a downtown area like ours? And how can they get involved in that if they don’t themselves own a business or a building there?

Sam: I think part of it comes down to finding a sense of community pride. The downtown, it’s really interesting from day to day, when someone walks in my shop, the perspective they take on this neighborhood. I can in the same day get one person who comes in and talks about how sad it is to see how hard our downtown has been hit by difficult times. And they look at it and see us on the downhill. And I can have another person come in 10 minutes later just going on and on about the incredible shops and businesses and architecture in our downtown. Part of it really is the perspective you choose to take. That’s one of the things that I would really like to see evolve over the next few years in this community. A lot of times, Richmond is its own worst enemy. And a lot of our customers who come from outside of Richmond, they see all of the wonderful things about this city that living here day to day we tend to forget to appreciate. So I would say we just really need to find a way to find pride in the place that we live.

John: And with that, that is in a sense the age old glass half full, glass half empty debate, only applied to our downtown. The interesting thing that I would point out, though, is I would say it’s not whether the glass is half full or half empty, because I’m pretty sure the glass is at least three quarters full at this point, we are moving in a positive direction with the downtown. And I want to kind of look back to Sam here to make sure that my numbers are right. But I know in the past, four or four and a half years, we’ve almost tripled the number of businesses and buildings that have been filled.

Chris: Wow.

Sam: I don’t know what the numbers look like as of this year, but I do know the Palladium-Item a few times has gone through the downtown and calculated the number of businesses in this district, and it is definitely steadily increasing.

Chris: That’s amazing to hear. Yeah. It maybe runs counter to the popular narrative about it so that it goes back to the idea of the slow and steady progress that may not always be something you can measure as you drive through quickly. But if you’re down there and working with it, if you’re in businesses downtown or in the shops and cafes and things like that, then you start to see it happen. I also know at the Chamber dinner, the speaker talked about openness as an indicator of a community’s potential for success. And I talked recently with Pat Heiny about our level of openness as a community. I know that in 2015 when there was some legislation on the horizon that might’ve made Indiana less welcoming, you all were clear in saying that you as a business wanted to be open and welcoming to everyone. How do you think we’re doing as a community when it comes to openness and what else can we do there?

Sam: As a community, especially this size in a state like Indiana, I feel that we are probably doing better than most as far as encouraging diversity and being open. But I also think we have a long way to go still.

Chris: The last question I wanted to ask you, a long, long time ago I decided I wanted to learn to knit. And I, instead of asking someone for help or having someone teach me, I went to YouTube and I watched videos about knitting. And it didn’t go very well. I think I’m still working on the scarf that I started as a Christmas gift for my mom at the time, and that was a long, long time ago. If someone today decides that they are interested in knitting or anything really sort of working with their hands with yarn, with other materials that you all work with, what’s the best place to get started?

Sam: Just stop in the shop. Have a conversation. We’re pretty good at working with beginners trying to make it less of an intimidating experience. And we really like with beginners to start them off with one on one sessions so that you can get an instructor’s full attention. That’s really important and it gives us the opportunity to kind of get to know you and see the way that you learn best and cater how we’re teaching this new skill to you around the experience that’s going to make you most successful.

Chris: Nice. What’s the trajectory that most people take when they’re just starting out? Does it take a long time to learn or is it something people get into quickly?

Sam: It really depends on the person and where they’re wanting to go with it. We have some people who I would say are driven by the experience and they’re going to go at a little bit slower pace. We get a lot of, also, people who are maybe a little bit more leaning towards preferring instant gratification or object focus. So they want to know that scarf is going to be done tomorrow. We work with them on their patience.

Chris: If I want to come in today and get a knitted scarf up on Instagram, I’m probably not in the right place.

Sam: We’ve got some pretty bulky yarns and some pretty bulky needles. You might be surprised. But yeah, it is fun to kind of see the broad spectrum of our customer base. It’s a different thing every single time I teach an intro class.

Chris: Well Sam, John, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and to share some of your thoughts and history and perspective, and certainly best wishes to you both as you continue to build community and expand what you’re doing in Richmond. Just thank you for all of that.

Sam: Thank you.

John: Thank you, Chris. We really appreciate the discussion. That was great.

Music is “Lucky Day” by Dee Yan-Key. Photos supplied.

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