In Portland, Oregon’s buzzing Hawthorne District, handiwork-toting urbanites are flocking to Happy Knits, a yarn boutique unlike any other.
The first tip-off that this place is unique among craft stores is its quirky window display: a recent one showcased a hand-knitted Super Mario Bros. scene with fireballs, a Bob-omb, Fire Flower and Star, and of course, Mario and his archenemy Bowser.
Inside lies knitting nirvana. Stacked with cubbies full of multicolored skeins, the well-organized space carries much to tickle the fancy of any level crafter, from novice to expert: needles and hooks, patterns and how-to books, vintage buttons, and a good selection of notions and accessories.
Happy Knits specializes in selling natural fibers from indie dyers and small U.S. companies. These high-quality yarns are spun from angora, bamboo, cotton, linen, llama, merino wool, pashmina and more—in every shade from robin’s egg blue to tart red. Looking to crochet an alpaca afghan or knit a pair of cashmere socks? Purl a silk scarf? Cheer up your neighborhood with rainbow yarn bombs? Happy Knits has what you need.
Even more notable, the store boasts a cozy common room—with gas fireplace, comfy couches and children’s play area—where knitters and their families drop in to take lessons, work on projects, hang out, or use the free WiFi to access Ravelry, a fiber-arts social networking website, for ideas, inspiration and information.
Happy Knits’ owner, Sarah Young, says she knew what she wanted in a yarn store, but it didn’t exist. So she built it herself.
Once the brick-and-mortar location opened in 2009, Sarah and her staff harnessed social media to stir up business. They later launched an online shop and a blog (publicizing sales, new products, tips, contests, classes, in-store events, etc.). Sales now stream in from around the world.
“We get dozens of online orders every week, mostly from the U.S., but we also have lots of customers in Canada, Australia, France and the U.K.,” says Jessa Clark, the store’s “virtual Jill-of-all-trades,” who handles online customer support, social media marketing, website updates, and blogging for happyknits.com.
Despite starting up during a recession, Happy Knits has flourished by adhering to its mission “to equip crafters of all kinds with the materials they need to make beautiful projects.”
It has also become the center of a creative community. Among other things, it established a knitting support circle for people affected by cancer and it participates in the annual Rose City Yarn Crawl, a four-day extravaganza that acquaints fiber fans with locally owned retailers. In recent years, yarn crawls have cropped up in cities across the nation to capitalize on the renewed popularity of knitting and crocheting. The American yarn-stitching crowd is now estimated to be more than 50 million strong.
To keep its operations running smoothly in this brave new DIY world, Happy Knits has used MerchantOS software since 2010, when the online shop went live. According to Jessa, “It’s super valuable to us to be able to have a POS system that allows us to run our online and physical stores out of the same inventory, and have that inventory update automatically.”
She says, “The launch of Happy Knit’s online store was probably our biggest victory. We had no idea how the online knitting community would respond, but we are so lucky to have just as loyal customers there as we do in person. Some people are such regulars and we know their tastes so well, we email them personally when a new base or color comes in that we think they’ll like.
“One regular from Pennsylvania sent us a Christmas card last year with a picture of her family—she has 11 children!—all wearing sweaters she knit out of yarn from our store. That made us feel pretty special.”
And pretty darn happy, too.