Ten years ago this month, Elizabeth and Rik Schell took ownership of Purl’s Yarn Emporium on Wall Street in downtown Asheville.
Over the years they’ve taught stitchers to knit and crochet, hosted stitch groups, and covered the street furniture with yarn. They’ve teamed up with local farmers, honored activists with Local Hero yarn, and supported community interests like the Beloved Tiny House village. But like many small businesses downtown, the pandemic hit Purl’s hard.
They had to let their staff go and move their inventory home so they could continue to fulfill orders online at purlsyarn.com, even while paying rent on the empty store. “We just don’t see a time in the near future when we can serve the public and be safe and comfortable,” Rik says. So they have decided to make their home business permanent and move out of their Wall Street location. “We are sad about closing this chapter of Purl’s, but we have hope that we’ll be able to keep being a new version of the Purl’s that the community has come to appreciate,” says Elizabeth.
When they realized maintaining their downtown space was unfeasible, Elizabeth and Rik reached out to nearby businesses about taking over their just recently signed 5-year lease. They didn’t want to leave their landlord in a difficult situation knowing that they were his main source of income. Of course most small businesses were in similar situations. Luckily, Jesson and Cristina Gil of Early Girl Eatery were excited about the opportunity.
Early Girl will be expanding into the 10 Wall Street space allowing for more socially distanced seating to meet this moment. “Early Girl was the first place we ate in Asheville. Mardi Gras was going on at Pritchard Park and as we ate the tasty food and watched the festivities, we knew Asheville was for us. We’re so happy that our space will be part of Early Girl,” note the Schells.
Conversations are underway about the possibility of Purl’s continuing to put some creativity into one or more window displays that bring positive messaging to Wall Street while directing folks to the new site at purlsyarn.com. Elizabeth and Rik also hope to be able to continue yarn bombing around town, maybe in some new locations.
Though leaving their downtown brick and mortar location, Purl’s is not closing. They have moved their shop to the basement of their house on the southside near AB-Tech and Mission hospital. The previous home owners had an AirBnB in the space, but they’ve turned it into a “mini Purl.” For now, they will continue to do online sales and virtual shopping appointments. Eventually they hope to do in-person appointments once they feel it is safe to do so. But with cases on the rise and an immune compromised family member, they are taking their time.
Elizabeth and Rik said they were super appreciative of everyone who has bought from their online shop, Zoomed into their virtual stitch groups, or just called to ask how they were doing. Without all the overhead of the downtown shop, they plan to keep Purl’s running for the foreseeable future. In a recent letter to customers, the store owners admitted, “These last four-and-a-half months have been filled with worry and at times despair. But most of all we’ve been reminded that we’ve been building a community more than a store. Seeing your faces on Zoom, hearing your voices on the phone, reading your emails and comments, all have been lifelines in dark times. We are creative people and we will figure out how to keep nurturing this community, how to keep us together even when we can’t get too close.”