When I entered the McKinney Knittery on March 13 (a Friday), activity was simmering in multiple pockets of the rectangular store. Visitors with yarn sat around a table in the back, hidden partially by the wall of comfy fibers in front of it. To the side of the checkout counter, another soft-seating area provided a comfortable spot for patrons to chat and simultaneously create.
The only time the conversations seemed to falter was when the power went out in the store, a growling thunder sounding out just after. The irony of a Friday the 13 resulting in such a predicament wasn’t lost on a pair of customers at the front of the store, lit only by the gray light coming in from the large front windows. Seemingly seconds after the lights had fallen, the chatter picked back up, phone flashlights sprouted up, and I saw a pair of knitting needles continue their work unperturbed.
The community element of the McKinney Knittery was what made the business click, owner Ginger Hayes told me that day. The store hosted more than a variety of fibers and supplies, offering classes and six weekly “Knit Togethers” for people to bring their projects and their conversations.
“I would definitely say that’s kind of what we’re known for and what draws people in,” she said, “and now they’ve made friendships.”
But now that the Covid-19 pandemic has struck the United States, Texas and Collin County, Ginger says scheduling something called a “Knit Together” wouldn’t follow current gathering guidelines. Like other businesses in Collin County, the McKinney Knittery has had to adjust its operations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
When I talk to Ginger again, this time over the phone, she tells me the Knittery is set to go online for orders the next Monday, which has been a project months in the making. The Knit Togethers have transitioned to online meeting platform Zoom, allowing patrons who had moved away to get in on the virtual fun.
They’ve had some curbside sales, being sure to maintain a distance of at least six feet from others and to use hand sanitizer whenever they enter or exit the building.
Ginger says knowing exactly what she was allowed to do seemed to be “up to a lot of interpretation.” The county’s orders made it seem like curbside pickup operations were okay, but an order from the City of McKinney made her think twice.
“I thought, well, as much as we’d like to consider us essential, and knitters probably would think we’re essential, especially if they’re stuck in their house with nothing to do, it would be hard to justify us as an essential business,” she says. “So that’s when we locked our door, even to curbside. But then I talked with someone from the city, and they made it sound like ‘Oh, you absolutely can be doing curbside.’ So now we’re doing curbside, we’re just not heavily promoting it. We’re trying to promote the shipping.”
A normal day might consist of her coming in with notes from the previous evening about what customers had asked about, as well as taking calls and prepping items for mail. The afternoons are usually slower, so she has time to do other projects.
“Sales dollars are way, way down,” Ginger says, “but we’re still working really hard.”
That includes doing inventory before launching the online ordering system as well as keeping up with texts, emails and Instagram messages as customers ask about yarn and for help with their projects.
Ginger has sent videos to people who need help. She and her staff are thinking about making some free video tutorials. She mentions one customer who called might need to come and get help from the other side of the store window.
“Her on the outside and us on the inside,” Ginger says.
In a different time, someone struggling with their project would have been able to walk into the Knittery and get some coffee or water as well as expert support. As orders to stay home as much as possible stretch through spring months, Ginger says she might consider offering classes on Zoom.
“But that might be challenging,” she says. “I kind of like the idea of just the little free tutorials at this point.”
For now, the store is using Instagram as one platform to keep in touch with customers, showcasing the rainbow of yarns that the Knittery offers.
One post featured a roll of elastic that one supplier had given the store free of charge—the kind of elastic people use to make masks. “Sewing masks? Let me know how I can get some elastic in your hands!” the post read. Ginger offered the elastic for free to customers, even paying for postage.
“We had commitments for all of it within one day,” she says.
Other Instagram posts showcase yarn and elegant knitted swatches. Ginger says knitting provides a way to destress—even in times when people are not asked to stay at home. She adds that she has heard that some people are now baking bread and “returning to their roots.”
“I think anytime that there’s a stresser, people do have a desire to make things and become more self-sufficient,” she says. “I think knitting definitely falls in that category.”
107 W. Louisiana St., McKinney | 469.714.4002 | mckinneyknittery.com