Beloved yarn shop hits economic snag Store may move to smaller site CENTRAL -- Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

July 06, 1993|By Donna E. Boller and Aglaia Pikounis | Donna E. Boller and Aglaia Pikounis,Staff Writers

Needleworkers have been going to the Yarn Basket on Westminster's East Main Street for nearly 10 years to find supplies and, more important, to find help with tricky stitches and confusing patterns. They may soon find "their store" in a smaller, less expensive location.

Tough economic times and the prospect of a rent increase led Yarn Basket owner Sharon Hooper to consider closing the store. "But then I think, I can't do that. I would miss it personally," she says.

Instead, she may move off Main Street.

Catherine Cruickshank, a Union Bridge resident who takes her 83-year-old mother, Muriel Cruickshank, and her 9-year-old daughter, also named Muriel, to the shop for crocheting instructions, says she needs the shop.

"There's no one [else] around anywhere that can give you at-hand instructions," like the people at the Yarn Basket, Catherine Cruickshank said. "They show you how to do everything."

The specialty store has been open at various addresses in Westminster for 25 years. Mrs. Hooper, a former Random House Inc. employee, bought it in 1987 and learned to operate the business "through on-the-job training," she says.

Mrs. Hooper anticipates a 10 percent rent increase when her lease expires three months from now, based on the experience of other tenants who have recently renegotiated leases. But she says her landlord is not a villain in the rent story.

"It's not an unfair price per square foot," she says. "It's that I have more square feet than I need to pay for." She declined to say how much rent she pays.

The shop has 1,800 square feet. The owner says she's looking for about 1,100, either through downsizing in her current location or moving to another site. In better economic times, she didn't pay much attention to the unused space, but it has become an unaffordable luxury.

"The economy is very sluggish, no matter what President Bill is telling us," Mrs. Hooper says.

She sees needleworkers who used to do simple designs now tackling heirloom projects, which means fewer patterns moving off her shelves. She says other factors that may have affected her business are parking, a perennial problem downtown, and the East Main Street reconstruction project, which may have kept some potential customers away from downtown.

If the Yarn Basket moves, it will be one of few stores to leave the downtown area recently, said David Max, president of the Westminster Business Association. Mr. Max said that although he did not have statistics, he has seen very little retail store turnover in the past 18 months.

The Cruickshank family found the Yarn Basket after moving to Carroll County from Ellicott City, leaving a local needlework shop behind.

The elder Muriel Cruickshank knew the basics of crocheting, but decided she wanted to learn different stitches. She began making baby blankets to donate to a Taneytown pregnancy center after her daughter learned about the center during a casual conversation in a thrift shop.

"It was our way of saying, thank you, God, for our babies," says Catherine Cruickshank.

Nine-year-old Muriel E. Cruickshank has learned to crochet pot holders and is now working on caps to go with the baby blankets.

"There are not that many places where you can buy yarn and get advice," Catherine Cruickshank says. She says advice is important because when a needleworker runs into a problem with a project, "You can't wait two or three months down the road until they're having crochet classes at the college."

No formal crocheting class is being offered at the Yarn Basket, but employee Jean Curtis is giving the Cruickshank family one-on-one help.

"In the fall, we'll have classes four or five nights a week and during the daytime," Mrs. Hooper says. Students can learn cross-stitch in a two-hour seminar, beginning needlepoint in about two weeks and basic knitting and crocheting in about four weeks of two-hour weekly classes.

The walls of the Yarn Basket are lined with framed needlework, some featuring local churches, Carroll County scenes or local high school mascots. Mrs. Hooper says people bring photographs of their homes, children or pets to be made into cross-stitch or needlepoint designs.

Most of the works are traditional -- the 23rd Psalm, homilies about home and kindness -- but one shows a sense of humor. "She who dies with the most fabric, wins," it says.

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