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The closing of Stitch(es) exposes the human side of small business

Stitch(es) will be closing at the end of the month after over three years in business.
Stitch(es) will be closing at the end of the month after over three years in business.
The Fiber Friend 2014

Wilmot, a frequent customer at local yarn shop Stitch(es) in Winnetka, walked in the door with questions and a desire to plan her next few projects. Her second grandchild, a girl, is on the way and there is still plenty of knitting to be done. Owner Sue Peterson was buzzing around the store with her, offering suggestions on yarn substitutions for a teddy bear themed cabled cardigan. Other than the shelves being amply stocked but no longer bursting at the seams, the mood in the store was not that of a local business getting ready to close.

Peterson made the decision to close her store after much careful thought and deliberation, and she announced it via email blast to her faithful customers on March 15. The message was heartfelt, and quite candid; as Peterson told her contingent of email subscribers, the decision was not due to any sort of financial hardship: "Stitch(es) for me has been a joy and a labor of love and am proud of what the store has become. However, to do justice to the store, to keep things fresh, challenging and inspiring takes a great amount of time of which I lack. When I leave the store at night I begin my second job as mom and I feel that I'm letting that job slip. I have tried but am unable to juggle both."

The atmosphere at Stitch(es), open since late fall 2010 and tucked into a quiet pocket of Gage Street just east of Green Bay Road, has always been that of a community with an indistinguishable relationship borderline between family, friend, and customer at times. The fact that Stitch(es) is still a business, however, means that customers will at some point walk through the door and shop for their yarn, forgetting their trusty local yarn shop owner is more than just a purveyor of fine yarns after the doors are locked and the lights are switched off. As Peterson's daughters are nine and thirteen years old, her docket is full both while running her business and running her household.

"I have two people I can rely on when I am not here," says Peterson, talking about running Stitch(es) mostly without the help of an arsenal of employees, "but they are both moms as well." Even though Peterson referred to her store as her "baby" when discussing the closing, it was apparent that her life revolves around her other two babies. "I miss their athletics every Saturday, and that is what they do! Athletics! So this is the right time."

A designer who shares her designs under the name Sue P. Knits, Peterson studied Textiles and Clothing at Iowa State University and learned from several knitwear designers before going solo in the design business over two decades ago. She designs and knits sweaters for several boutique businesses, and with the demand for hand-knit sweater designs increasing, her inbox is full of requests for her designs. After closing her store on April 30, Peterson will have both more time to design and loom-knit her pieces for these boutiques, and working from home will give her the chance to be more available for her daughters.

For now, though, her store continues to hold its Store Closing sale, with yarns and patterns (both books and individual sheets) marked down to 40% off the original price. While she was in talks to sell the business, nothing has come of those talks, so plans to close are still forging ahead. Her customers, both regular and occasional, have offered her words of support and encouragement while still expressing their sadness that their local yarn shop was closing. The nearest stores in the area are CloseKnit and Montoya Fiber Studio, both located in Evanston, and Mia Bella in Highland Park.

With the added layer of emotion from both customers and Peterson herself, however, business will continue as usual for the next three weeks. A class schedule will continue through the month, Sit n Stitch will be on its regularly scheduled day, and Peterson will still be available for private knitting lessons after her doors close. Wilmot, meanwhile, was working on a baby blanket and knew she was going to be one ball short to finish it. Peterson's inventory system indicated that the crucial ball existed, but rummaging through the bins produced nothing. That is, until she was having a conversation about the blanket when Peterson turned around to walk toward the east wall of the store. "Guess what I found!" she squealed, and walked over to the customer, holding the elusive ball of yarn. Wilmot held that last ball of Pink Sublime baby yarn she needed, sighed, and said, "I can't believe it." There it was, and it felt like a little miracle that the ball appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

With the community preparing to reel its loss of its beloved north-shore yarn shop, Peterson is engaging in a new little miracle. She has found the best way to achieve a work-life balance, and she is going for it.

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