At 1912 State Avenue in Olympia sits a stately brick Tudor, squarely across from Ralph’s Thriftway. It houses a new business, Our Local Yarn Shop, smartly dubbed “OLYS” for short. As in knitting, the new business seems to pick up where the last stitch left off, in this case Canvas Works, which was once the favorite fiber that knit the stitchers of our community together.
OLYS owner Laurie Brown says, “When Canvas Works closed, there were so many of us that were bereaved and bereft – we felt as if we had been cast upon the stormy waters of a dark, dark sea.”
She goes on to explain that for the past few years, since the former yarn shop’s closing, a group of knitters and crocheters would rove from home to home and stitch together in an effort to maintain the community that had formed. There was much discussion among the group about how lovely another yarn shop would be, but who would be the one to do it was always the question…
“I’m a person who likes to be proactive,” says Laurie, “and I kept saying, ‘If the perfect place becomes available – then I’m just going to DO it.’”
And then one day, she did.
It’s hard to not be inspired by the historic brick home that now encompasses the shop. The day Laurie saw the “For Lease” sign out front, she contacted the Realtor and began the process of bringing the new yarn shop to life. She shared her plans with fellow knitter, Joan Swanson, who Laurie reports, “was nearly moved to tears” when she heard the news of Laurie opening a shop in the space.
Joan then shared news of her own: the brick Tudor was built by her grandparents.
Edward and Martha Zabel, contributors to the tapestry of Olympia were “long-time purveyors of family entertainment in Olympia since 1909” says the Olympia Film Society. In 1924, Edward Zabel along with William Wilson built the Capitol Theater, still one of Olympia’s most treasured landmarks and finest buildings, a “picture palace.” Then in 1931, the Zabel family built another fine building, the solid brick Tudor turned yarn shop.
Like most knitters who visit OLYS, Joan was reported to have enjoyed knitting next to the fire, and every time she enters the building, she “expected it to smell like Thanksgiving,” and what a treasure it is for her to return to the place where she made so many memories as a child and now gets to knit new ones in later in life.
OLYS is special for a lot of people. Laurie’s kind and welcoming demeanor really shines in the space she has created. She credits Nancy and Gary Graybeal, former Canvas Works owners, and their daughter, Amy Chartrey, as her mentors who have helped her launch the new business. She says the community of people she knits with showed up before she was open to the public to help her merchandise, decorate and prepare the shop for business.
Although OLYS has only been open two-and-a-half months, it was bustling on the day I visited. Six women were knitting around the fire, shoppers were stopping in looking for specific fibers for special projects, and while Laurie and I chatted over tea, knowledgeable and friendly shopkeeper, Dart, was certainly kept on his toes tending to the shoppers.
Between Laurie and Dart, there are over four decades of combined experience in knitting and crocheting, and the two share their expertise freely. There’s always coffee, tea and hot cocoa waiting at a self-serve bar (donations gladly accepted), and the fire is always ablaze – ready to warm the hands (and hearts), of the patrons.
In a basket near the fire is a Community Twiddlemuff that can be worked on by any stitcher who stops in. Any type of stitch, any yarn color or type, whatever inspires the knitter at the time can be added to the twiddlemuff. If you’re knitting your brows together in wonder as I was on “twiddlemuff,” Laurie explains it as a 22-inch-long knitted tube that will be turned in on itself to make a double-sided 11-inch muff (a tube into which the hands are placed in for warmth). Along the way, bits and bobs are sewn on with dental floss, as it can’t be chewed off, and the muff becomes a sensory tool designed to provide stimulation for the restless hands of those suffering from dementia.
Creating and donating these muffs is just one part of the philanthropic spirit that radiates from Laurie. OLYS also holds weekly classes, a full schedule can be found on the website and many of them, unless otherwise noted, are free to attend.
On Thursdays, beginning at 11:00 a.m., knitters gather with Janey where they knit simple projects for those in need. Chemo caps, preemie caps, or “knitted knockers” are some of the projects that may be explored. OLYS helps out with patterns and donates the yarn they receive from distributors, yarn left over from projects, and skeins that have been returned by customers.
There’s a Basic Beginner’s Knitting class and a Learn to Crochet class, and Laurie utilizes a room on the second floor of the building as a classroom. She says she plans to add a knitting class for children in the near future where children (accompanied by an adult) learn to knit in a fun and welcoming class.
Laurie joked that she thought the building was a good fit for a yarn shop because from the outside it looks like somewhere where you’d find a grandma inside knitting by the fire. There’s always at least one doting grandma inside, and that’s Laurie, and she has even tucked a basket of toys in the corner for the littlest shoppers to play while their grown-ups get their yarn fix.
Laurie has many yarn sales planned for the future, and for frequent shoppers, she plans to have a punch-card program rolling by mid-February. Every $10 spent will earn a stamp, and once 30 stamps are accrued the shopper receives $20 off their next purchase.
“A goal that I have for the shop,” Laurie says, “is that we carry lines that represent a good range of fibers and affordability. We can go from a $10 skein of 100 percent wool all the way up to a $57 skein of silk cashmere.”
Laurie reports that she has almost every type of fiber in at this moment, save for hemp. Cotton, wool, silk, acrylic, bamboo and blends – whatever you wish to cast on with, Our Local Yarn Shop has it by the ball, skein, cake or hank, and in the full-spectrum of the rainbow.
The week before she opened, Laurie hosted a thank you party for everyone who volunteered to help along the way. The Graybeals were in attendance.
“Gary made this announcement,” Laurie shares, “that when Canvas Works closed, I was the last person out the door before they locked it for the last time. And so he said it seemed perfectly fitting that I would be the first person to open a new yarn shop.”
Our Local Yarn Shop is located at 1912 State Avenue NE, Olympia. For more information, call 360-915-6943.