By Inez Maubane Jones
It’s as much an experience as it is a store. One that gently lingers long after you’ve parted. It’s Churchmouse Yarns & Teas. It’s an LYS, a local yarn store. “It’s part of our brand, part of our existence,” said co-owner John Koval. “We want people to understand that yeah, we are that store on that island just outside of Seattle.” Founded by co-owner Kit Hutchin in 2000, Churchmouse in downtown Winslow is designed with bold white on black and exudes a residential vibe with table lamps and easy chairs.
Guests are greeted by the fine yarn’s rich textures and colors. Creating a welcoming gathering space was always Hutchin’s goal. She is driven by creating a long term customer relationship, not a short term sale. In addition to yarn, the cozy shop offers tea, English tea ware, ready to wear knitted scarves and hot chocolate, all of which contribute to the store’s approachable atmosphere. “We care about how people feel,” Koval said. “We care about community.
Regular events at the store engage the community. Customers can take advantage of classes and workshops, join a drop-in circle, or spend time at the shop’s open tables and learn from like minded fiber fans. Once a month, Churchmouse hosts a charity circle, during which visitors gather to tackle knitting projects that will be donated. Also offered in March this year is Knitting with Company, a 3 day retreat at IslandWood. Happily for Churchmouse—and niche stores like it—knitting has moved well beyond the days when the craft was reserved only for grannies in rocking chairs.
According to the Association for Creative Industries, 28.8 million Americans knitted or crocheted in 2016, representing a $2.79 billion market. Today, around 70 percent of knitters (and crocheters) are female and their ages range pretty evenly across the board. It’s easy to understand knitting’s appeal. It’s a portable and productive hobby, and its repetitive motion relaxes the mind. In a world dominated by screens—television, computers and smartphones—it is a gentle way to unplug. Kids like it too.
Churchmouse offers knitting “classrooms” for children as young as 7—the age Hutchin was taught to knit by her mom and grandmother. Besides a diversion from the ubiquitous screen, the craft teaches eye hand coordination, encourages taking on projects that require persistence and patience, and imparts a sense of accomplishment and confidence. In an era when small brick-and-mortar stores are disappearing, Churchmouse is a stalwart. Koval admits that people can purchase yarn and knitting supplies online for a lot less and have it expediently delivered.
“The difference is how they feel when they buy it from us.” Although many of the store’s customers are veteran knitters, part of Hutchin’s plan is to attract new folks to the craft. Beginner kits available at the shop inspire novices to feel like they could create something beautiful. Whether a rookie or an expert, “we try to make sure that people get the right project,” said Koval. It’s details like these that draw not just locals but also tourists from as far away as Connecticut and Australia to the boutique, said Koval.
Churchmouse’s mail orders are wrapped in tissue with a handwritten note and delivered in elegant white and black boxes. And Churchmouse keeps in touch with its patrons by email and mailers—sharing what they’re knitting, perhaps a Scottish cheese scone recipe, and always a quick note from Hutchin. Hutchin and Koval hope that their personal approach to selling yarn helps them realize a core vision for Churchmouse—to be a 100 year company.
Considering that 80 percent of small businesses close in the first five years, Churchmouse has already defied the odds at 19 years. “We’re still here,” said Koval. “We’re here because we are persistent. We are determined to continue.” What should knitting newbies expect on their first visit? “A warm, welcoming and engaged team who are unfailingly kind. A beautiful, inspiring space filled with worthy products. Sound, sustainable business products,” said Hutchin. And lovely refreshing tea.