Yarn enthusiasts hail knitting and crochet as a creative pastime that brings people together.
Serving as a hub for those looking to continue their love-affair with knitting or take up a new hobby can look no further than Wool and Co. in St. Charles.
Aiming to create a social space for patrons, owner Angela Busby offers visitors complimentary tea, coffee and a communal spirit – plus an extensive yarn and needle collection.
“I wanted to create a yarn store that’s unlike any other yarn store,” Busby says. “I want it to be a community center for knitting where we welcome all levels of knitters. We welcome children; we teach a ton of classes; and it’s focused on the community.”
Busby took a beloved, 16-year-old shop and – in a matter of months – recreated its business plan so that, today, Wool and Co. serves as both a retail store and creative hub for the knitting community.
“It’s llike a clubhouse for knitters,” Busby says. “We have some customers that just really love the shop; they love the feel of it. They walk in and say it’s just so relaxing. There are people I see multiple times a week.”
Busby’s favorite part of the transformation has been seeing everyone come together around a common vision.
“They are so invested in the shop and what it stands for, and that means so much to me,” she says.
A new adventure
Busby wasn’t looking to purchase a retail store when she heard Wool and Co. was set to close.
The 40-year-old St. Charles resident had worked in corporate marketing until six years ago when she decided to turn over a fresh leaf and become a Pilates instructor.
She was still teaching Pilates last July when she stopped by Wool and Co. and discovered that Lesley Edmondson – the shop owner who had taught Busby to knit a few years earlier – was getting out of the business.
“She said she was retiring,” Busby recalls. “And I was devastated about losing our local yarn store.”
Busby began to daydream about what she could do with a yarn shop of her own.
“I had pages of ideas,” she says. “I started talking to my husband and I said, ‘[It’s] crazy, but I think we should buy this yarn shop.’”
Crazy or not, by Aug. 1, the Busby family had purchased Wool and Co. They spent two months refurbishing the shop’s interior, installing new fixtures and creating a comfortable, welcoming space for knitters to not only purchase fine yarns, but to congregate and work on their projects.
Busby’s husband, Andrew, built special pegboards to display skeins of hand-dyed yarns, and Busby incorporated pieces of furniture throughout the store to give the space a homey feel. A table situated in the center of the store is for knitters to sit around and chat while they work.
“I focused on making it less like a retail store and more like going over to a friend’s house – a friend who has over 10,000 skeins of yarn,” Busby says.
At the same time, she wanted the shop to be beautiful, vibrant and full of energy. Somehow, by Oct. 1, she managed to imbue the shop with the desired atmosphere and reopened.
“What makes us different is that we’re not just a retail shop; we have a communal spirit,” says Busby. “We’re a welcoming place that offers a slew of services.”
Customer Noreen Cashman of Wayne agrees that it’s a “wonderful, welcoming place.”
“You walk in there, and it’s like a kid in a candy store; it’s like a wonderland, just [with] the colors and the particular yarns that Angela actually stocks. She has impeccable taste. And everything is so organized. It’s so easy to find what you’re looking for … . You can make a cup of tea and just sit and knit.”
Throughout the entire purchase/renovation process, Busby’s underlying motivation was to further the craft of knitting and crocheting. She increased the number of educational classes offered – from knitting/crocheting 101 to advanced courses – and she hired a staff with years of knitting experience so that anyone on her team could assist customers with their questions, whether it was how to pick up a dropped stitch or how to choose the correct yarns for patterns.
Busby also wanted to make the shop more accessible, so she extended the shops operational hours to 8 p.m. six days a week. – a perk many customers enjoy.
“We all get in problems where maybe you’re running out of yarn … or maybe you want to start a project and it turns out you don’t have that particular needle, and it’s kind of nice you can just run in and they’re there [at night],” says Cashman.
Though the former Wool and Co. and its staff were a wonderful addition to the St. Charles downtown area, the overhaul to the shop has been a success, says five-year customer Mary Ellen Masson.
“It was a cozy, multi-roomed shop, a little cluttered, but that was part of its charm,” says the St. Charles resident. “You kind of had to know what yarn you wanted when you went in … . The big difference [now] is it’s so open and airy in there. They really do want you to come in during open knit times.”
The new shop owners are a “breath of fresh air,” Masson adds.
“They make you happy when you walk in there,” Masson says. “[Angela Busby] clearly loves what she’s doing with this.”
Why try knitting?
In case you have the notion that knitting isn’t for you, think again.
There’s been a resurgence in knitting and crocheting, for various reasons, says Busby.
More young people are becoming interested in yarn and knitting, falling in love with the creative process that allows them to choose vibrant colors and patterns to make clothing, felted objects and other
items. Since the New Year, Wool and Co. has added more kids and teens classes to fulfill the demand.
“I just finished teaching eight teenage girls how to knit,” says assistant manager Laura Keiken. [The teenage girls’] generation [is] trying to reconnect with [its] roots a bit more. Millennials are bucking the trend and not wanting to be materialistic and consumeristic. They’re being more conscious about how they spend their time and money … and knitting’s kind of part of that.”
Younger generations are helping make shops like Wool and Co. all the more valuable, she says.
As it is with most retail establishments, competing with the online market can be difficult, but – with online shopping – you often lose that connection with people and the products, says Keiken.
“You don’t get the customer service part … [no one is] helping you fix a mistake or helping you try something new. That’s where the knitting shops are still important.”
In addition to being a creative outlet, many people turn to knitting because it’s a social activity.
“[Knitting] is so social,” Keiken says. “It’s just a place where people of like minds come and sit around a table. They can be from all different backgrounds and socioeconomic classes, but to hear the conversations going on … it’s nice to see people come and sit around a table and that stuff doesn’t matter. They’re getting to know people for the people that they are … . I have met some of my best friends while knitting around the table at Wool and Co.”
For years, Masson’s niece, Amy, has travelled from Madison, Wisconsin, just to peruse the stock at Wool and Co. with her aunt. During her last visit, she ventured into the new store.
“She said, ‘I’m never going home,’” Masson says. “She had basic knitting down, but she loved the fact that she could come in with me [and knit]. I think it was Laura that got her started on actually knitting [a cowl]. She felt so successful, within a couple days, she called and said, ‘Aunt Mary Ellen, could you get me some more [yarn]?’ Which was great, because it gave us another opportunity to get together and sit and knit.’”
Knitting also is a calming activity that requires the brain to focus on a repetitive movement, which often helps those with anxiety or depression escape their thoughts, Keiken says. Many people knit as a stress reliever, especially during difficult times.
Whatever their reason for picking up needles, Busby is happy for the support she’s received.
“I know a lot of people like to knit, but I’ve been a little bit surprised … how grateful everyone is that [Wool and Co.] is still open and they have a local place to go and talk to other knitters,” Busby says. “It’s starting to become a community; it’s starting to become what I envisioned. I thought it was pie in the sky … [but] to see it happening and to see the role that knitting plays in people’s lives has been very eye-opening and warming to me.”
Did you know?
Wool and Co. donates 5 cents to Anderson Animal Shelter in South Elgin each time a customer opts out of taking a shopping bag.
Wool and Co. carries boutique yarns, including high-end, hand-dyed fibers. The shop carries the following brands: Berroco, Cascade, Debbie Bliss, Dream In Color, Madelinetosh, Malabrigo, Plymouth, Rowan, Wonderland and more.
Wool and Co. has an in-store computer available to customers to log on to Ravelry – a social networking site for the knit and crochet community – that enables customers to access their accounts in order to save new ideas and find new patterns on which to work.
Wool and Co.
107A W. Main St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Monday through Friday
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday