Wednesday, 30 July 2014
In a little town called Listowel, Ontario (population 5,000 and located about a 45-minute drive north of Kitchener), there is a factory that manufactures much of the yarn that is sold in Ontario and an accompanying factory outlet store that draws many yarn shoppers from many miles around. The selection of yarn and other crafting materials is quite good, the prices are very reasonable, and the store also has a lot of seconds and clearance yarn available for very little.
As a teenager I lived in Listowel for three years. My parents still live there, and I visit the store a few times a year when I'm back visiting family. As you might expect, I've invested much money and time in the Spinrite store over the years. I think fondly of the time that, for $14, I purchased enough rose-coloured mohair to make a skirt, a sweater and an afghan, and of the time I single-handedly kept three sales associates busy waiting on me for my entire visit (it was Christmas Eve day and I was the only customer there at the time). The yarn store employees know me by sight and tease me about how I should move back from Toronto to work there. I tell them, "Stock options, and then we'll talk," and they say, "Oh honey, we all want stock options!"
The Spinrite Factory Outlet has several big sales a year, and they have big tent sales which are crazily well-attended. Countless minivans pull into the parking lot with full loads of purposeful-looking crafters, and it's not uncommon to see buses arriving with a full load of avid day-trippers. At the entrance to the tent, Spinrite staff hand out enormous plastic bags (think larger than the standard black plastic garbage bag), and many shoppers do actually fill them. I've always enjoyed watching other Spinrite shoppers shop, because they do so with such an intense focus, and one sees many funny little vignettes.
Most of Spinrite's clientele is female. My oldest brother once visited the store on his own, armed with a Christmas shopping list written out for him by his wife, to get a gift certificate for me. He's a farmer and like most farmers he is very skilled at working with his hands, but he doesn't do any sort of needlework. Arriving Spinrite customers are usually greeted in passing and left to browse about by themselves, but when he walked in the front door, he was instantly approached by a store employee who asked if she could help him. My brother said, "This isn't really my kind of place," and the salesperson said, "That's all right sir, we get your kind in here sometimes and we can help you." I so wish my Christmas present had included video of this incident.
Such stray non-knitting men are a less common sight in the store than the husbands or boyfriends in the tow of female customers. Some of these male companions do enter into the shopping with an affectionate indulgence and spirit of fun that's adorable to see, but most look very bored, in either an impatient or a grimly resigned way. One time I saw a woman trawling the store accompanied by a husband who was lugging two enormous upholstery cushions in her wake. She'd pick up a skein of yarn, hold it up to one of the cushions, purse her lips, shake her head decidedly, put the skein back, and then move briskly on to the next set of shelves with her husband trailing along behind, physically compliant but with the most palpable look of frustrated resentment on his face that I ever saw. I hope he at least ended up liking the resulting afghan or throw pillows.
The video above shows how busy the Spinrite tent sales can be and how one such male hanger-on occupied his time while his crafty wife was shopping. A possible veteran of previous such sales, he had come equipped with a folding chair, a guitar, his sense of humour, and a song entitled "I Lost My Wife at the Spinrite Factory Outlet Store". I note that his wife has already purchased a big bag of yarn (visible in the vehicle behind her husband), so it's a safe bet she'll be returning eventually. She won't want to leave her yarn.