Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ten Astonishing Things

Sorry this one's late, but between the snow and the annual RYC Holiday Party, the last couple days were a little less productive than I'd hoped.

O.k., the ten most astonishing shop-related things: we’ll pass by global events.

We all know that Philly is the world’s largest small town; once you’ve lived here for more than a year or two, you stop meeting anyone new—everyone turns out to be your sister-in-law’s mechanic or your father’s officemate’s daughter or something. Nonetheless, some coincidences still overwhelm me.

1. A couple weeks ago, a woman came into the shop who’d never been here before. She turned out to be visiting her sister here; she lives in Washington State. How’d she hear about us? She had a stopover in Denver, and while she was waiting in the airport, she met a knitter from Manhattan, who told her that we were the shop to visit in Philadelpia.

Then when she got into town, we turned out to be her sister’s LYS, anyway.

2. This one is from about 1997. A customer named Hannah knit a baby set as a shower gift for a coworker. The day of the shower, she had it with her on her lunchbreak when she went to buy a gift bag. Somewhere between the card shop and the office, she lost the whole thing—bag, sweater, hat, and all.

Months later, a stranger came into the shop and gave us a bag with a handknit baby set in it: he’d found it on a bench on Market Street, it had no identification with it, he figured we might know something to do with it. We did: we gave it back to Hannah.

3. Another one from ‘way back: a customer named Stacy came in with a half-finished baby sweater. She explained that her grandmother had been knitting it for her when Stacy was a baby, but then Grandma got distracted or delayed, and it became clear that Stacy was going to outgrow the sweater before it was finished, and so the project got tucked away somewhere. (Sound familiar?)

But now that Stacy herself was expecting her first child, Grandma pulled out the old sweater and thought she’d finish it. Unfortunately, in the twenty-some-year hiatus, the pattern book (which was already tattered from considerable use for Stacy and her siblings and cousins) had fallen apart and the pages had been separated. Stacy had the first part of the instructions, but everything after “Continued on p. 43” was missing. Could we, from the extant part of the sweater and instructions, re-design the rest?

We could do better than that: from the pages Stacy had, I recognized the booklet as one of those ancient Spinnerin classics that everyone’s grandmother had—including mine. I went into the back room, dug around in the vintage pattern archives, and found my grandmother’s copy of the same book. Dated 1963, mind you.

4. I live about 4 blocks from the shop. In early September, one of my neighbors stopped me in our shared courtyard and asked if I’d seen her cat, Orlando. He wasn’t the kind of cat to come and go on his own; he was a totally indoor cat, and old. I hadn’t.

Pictures of Orlando went up around the courtyard and on poles in the neighborhood. Days passed.

Then one morning, as I was getting my coffee at Tuscany, I ran into Amber. We walked over to the shop together, and just in front of the door, we encountered her friend Robbie, a fairly new knitter who lives nearby. Amber asked him what had happened to the cat—he and Sal had found a stray over Labor Day weekend, and had taken it to a shelter. Robbie said it would probably be put down, since it was clearly sick, but the vet hadn’t made the rounds yet (because of the holiday weekend).

He went on his way, and as I was unlocking the shop door, Amber was telling me that this stray had resembled Bill the Cat from Bloom County. That’s when the penny dropped: Orlando!

Run back home. Find one of the “Lost Cat” signs. Run back to the shop. Meanwhile, Amber has called Ben to get Sal’s cell number to find out which shelter. Leave voicemail for Susan everywhere with the shelter’s number. Leave voicemail at the shelter that they should hold onto the cat, if it’s not too late.

Wait several hours.

Victory! Rejoicing! Susan (and her 17-year-old daughter Sarah, who can’t remember life without 14-year-old Orlando) are reunited with the cat. The shelter worker says that, in her 3 years working there, this is only the fifth reunion she’s seen.

5. This one’s just silly: Knitting Circle regular Rhonda comes in one day and gets into a conversation with customer Renee about Renee’s knitted coat. Watching them, I know something seems funny, but it takes a moment to figure out what: Rhonda has a sister named Renee. Renee has a twin named—-you guessed it.

6. Classic Elite Yarns is located in Lowell, MA, which was a major hub of 19th-century textile production. The “mill girls” of Lowell were usually from farm families throughout New England, and they lived in dormitories while earning cash to send home. (They also published their own literary magazine.) When Classic Elite moved production of La Gran overseas in the late 1990’s, they sent some of the ancient, industrial-size wooden bobbins from the mill to their customers. We’ve got two of them hiding away in the back room. My sense of wonder at living with an artifact from this footnote in the history of women’s work and women’s writing never goes away.

7. Leo Brookman from Discover Many of you may recall that this shop used to have a different name. A few years ago, when the name changed to Rosie's, I spent a lot of time on the phone with various vendors and service providers. The guy on the other end of the line at Discover (our credit-card approval system) passed the time chatting while we waited for the system to update. He asked what kind of business this was, and then told me that he'd once been in the yarn business--back in the 1980's, he was the U.S. distributor for a French yarn company. I remembered that company, and we had a pleasant conversation. He changed the name on our account, and we hung up.

A few weeks later, the phone rings, and it's Leo Brookman: he's been thinking about yarn since our last conversation, and where do I think the handknitting market is going? And do I think there might be a market for a line of yarns like such-and-such, or like this, or like that? Well, I had to say I thought the handknitting market was doing pretty well. We chatted, he thanked me, we hung up.

Months pass. Next thing I know, one of my sales reps is showing me a new line of yarn he's just picked up--French company, just started distributing in the U.S.--you guessed it, Leo's back in the yarn business.

I'm glad he's having fun (I hope he's having fun), but I feel so . . . responsible. There are days in any business, I suppose, when anyone wishes they'd chosen something else--anything else--to pay the rent. But I feel like, when Leo Brookman has those days, it's going to be my fault. So, Leo, if you're reading: I'm happy to have helped . . . and on the other days, I'm sorry.

8. You never know who you'll meet in a class. The first night of a sweater class is always mayhem, as everyone tries to choose a project and find yarn and check gauge all at once. But by the second or third night, things settle down, and people have a chance to get to know one another. "Where do you live?" "What do you do?" A few years back, a student named Jennifer answered that she worked for Running Press, and that, as a matter of fact, they were planning to do a knitting book, though they hadn't found an author yet, and did any of us know anyone? (That's how Running Press is: pick a marketable topic, then go find someone to provide content.)

I couldn't resist: I confessed to my former life as an academic. The eternal phrase was uttered--"Let's have lunch"--and thus was The Joy of Knitting born.

9. At Stitches East one year, on the morning of the first full day of the show, I realized that the cashbox wasn't on my dining room table, where I'd dropped all my stuff when I came in the night before. Hmmm. I must have left it at the shop when I dropped some stuff there. Stopped by the shop on the way out to Valley Forge--hmmm, not there, either. When I picked Jen up, I asked if she'd taken it with her when she got out of the truck the night before--nope, nothing doing. Well, we figured we must have left it in the booth; it was late, we were all exhausted. Nothing to worry about; security on the show floor is always excellent.

Got to the booth--you guessed it, no cashbox. We wracked out brains: what could have happened? The best guess was that someone could have seen it on the front seat of the truck while we were unloading at the shop the night before, and reached right in, since the doors were unlocked. Pain and agony: not just because the day's take was in there, but because so much other stuff was, too--change, pens, boxcutters, screwdrivers, and our copies of all the transactions from the night before--including many customer credit card numbers.

Wasn't much to be done, except keep wondering if there was any other place it could possibly be. And when we thought of anything--somewhere else in my dining room, somewhere at the (trashed) shop we'd overlooked--there wasn't anything we could do to check. (This was back in the day, before "identity theft" was such a buzzword; if it happened today, I'd probably just slit my wrists.)

Late in the day, another terrible possibility crossed my mind: what if I'd left it in the rental truck when I returned it the night before? Parked on the street at 12th and Washington. We called the U-Haul place, and they said they were open until 7:00. The show closed at 6, we hauled . . . ourselves . . . back into town as quickly as possible, drove up to the office, went in and asked if anyone had found, um, anything in a truck returned the day before. The guy at the counter called another guy, who took me back into an office, and there was our cashbox (which looks, it may be time to mention, like a cheap plastic toolbox). "This yours?" he asked. "Look inside," he said.

It was all there. Every penny (or I assume; we didn't know exactly how much cash should be there, but we knew close enough--and who'd steal $1 if they were going to leave the rest?), every screwdriver, every customer receipt (still in their rubber bands), and the good boxcutter.

And I will never forget our customer Norma, who'd seen me nearly out of my mind the day before, and who came back to the show the next day carrying a new set of boxcutters for us. I doubt boxcutters have ever been such a sweet or thoughtful gift.

10. I've been in the yarn business for ten years. Here are some other numbers that surprise me: In that time, I've only seen 5 bounced checks. Only 2 people have come in to steal sample garments. (Or maybe only two have gotten away with it. But still.) The total number of people who've worked at the shop is over 30. There are at least 7 former customers who now own yarnshops of their own. Two of them still shop with us, at least from time to time. We're on our second cash register (soon to be replaced again), our fifth (at least) vacuum cleaner, probably our tenth and eleventh phones--and yet the original stapler, from Day One, is still seeing heavy use every day without complaint.


JJ said...

It is a small (knitting) world. I grew up in PA, and I have lived in Ohio and now California. Rosie's is my favorite LYS overall, and I am constantly on the website and the blog. I live in Davis and drove 45 minutes to a shop in Fair Oaks. I was talking about Schaefer Anne (my favorite yarn in the whole world) and your amazing stock. The owner said her niece's friend is in school in Philly and is working in a LYS, and she thought it was Rosie's.

Carol said...

Hey, that must be Annika!

Does the fact that the first ten days of December are over mean there aren't going to be any more Top Ten lists? Because I shall miss them.

Magda said...

...and I will miss the suspense of dropping my name into a fishbowl and wondering if fate would smile upon me as a little hand went into a fishbowl and found me worthy of a small knitting gift.

Lisa M. said...

Well, there is one more list coming (I got a bit behind), but doorprizes are officially over (don't despair if you haven't been notified, we're a little behind there, too). But you've given me an idea . . . stay tuned.