…Or Death

Well, we’ve just run out. We only had the three bits and we didn’t expect such a rush”

“So my choices are ‘or Death?”

You know, I’ve heard quite a few crafters talk about their negative experiences at yarn stores. I knitted long before I ever worked at my LYS so I was sensitive to the issue. Even now, with roughly 7 months under my belt, I try to remember to be thoughtful. I leave the browsers alone because they just want some peace and quiet. I chat with the people that need their hands held. I treat everyone as a potential crafter, even though male customers are rare and any men in the store usually are, indeed, the spouse of a female customer.

When threads about bad yarn stores surface, people with tattoos talk about being followed, men are ignored, and young people are treated as a nuisance. Although I first visited my LYS-now my place of work-when I was 16, I never felt that way. Maybe my first purchase established me as slightly different. It was two skeins of Shepherd Sock and a set of size 1 DPNs. Not exactly “Super Fun Crafty Bulky Knitz for Hawt Teens” material. Anyway, I was lucky to never felt put down because of my age.

But now, on the other side of the counter?

Most customers I deal with are amazing. And most of them seem pretty satisfied with the help that I give them. Unfortunately, I have a huge, huge disability that prevents me from helping a select few customers.

I’m young. Too young, apparently. Some customers, usually older, distinguished and conservative, just don’t feel comfortable being waited on by someone my age. I didn’t realize at first that it was my age. I  offered my help. They politely declined and I assumed they wanted to browse in peace. However, the moment that my boss appeared or spoke to them, they lit up like a Christmas tree and they had a nice chat while I stood there and felt like a schmuck. I’m using generic terms because it’s happened multiple times by now. And it wasn’t because they knew my boss. Often they are out of town visitors that have never been in the shop before.

What’s frustrating about all of this is that all of their questions were basic ones that I could easily answer. They ranged from gauge to if we had more of a certain color of yarn but none of them were that baffling. When I described them as conservative, I didn’t just mean dress. Usually they’ve knitted a very small range of patterns with a limited range of yarn. They found a niche and they don’t stray from it. Waiting on this kind of customer takes patience because they usually have very specific and exacting demands but it’s simply because they know what they want. This can be frustrating for me if I can’t find the exact shade of fingering weight unicorn yarn that they want but the pay-off comes at the register. They usually spend well.

So what continues to baffle me is why on earth being young is such a bad thing. I’m young so I can run (well, not literally) all over the shop and fetch and carry and find what they need. Still, they remain visibly uncomfortable with my youthful appearance.

I certainly don’t understand this. Maybe some of you do?

August 5, 2010. Snark Editorial, Teen Crafters.

6 Comments

  1. Sam replied:

    I’ve had a few very similar experiences from when I worked at a yarn store as a recent high school graduate/college student, but there’s one that really stands out.
    Most customers were regulars and very awesome. But one older lady who came in during afternoon sit ‘n knit time when everyone else including the owner sitting next to me was engaged in a project. I greeted her and asked if she needed help since she came to a fullstop in front of the group, only to be nervously looked up and down and flat out told that “I don’t think you can help me with what I need done. You don’t look like you would know.” The owner and regular sat in silence while I tried to help her anyways (they refused to speak up and feed her prejudice). Turns out she wanted a custom designed baby blanket (with a rose pattern and a name embedded) and couldn’t believe that a 20 year old girl could have ever made one or possibly know how to help her, despite being employed in a yarn store and actually knitting a complicated lace shawl right in front of her. No employee in that store would have been what she wanted, a designer, at least not without a fee attached for what would essentially be a one-on-one class. I still tried to help her get a close enough pattern, but she left empty-handed, and when I returned to my seat the regulars and owner reassured me that she was ridiculous and I wasn’t just hallucinating.
    Thankfully that was one of a very few experiences in the couple of summers I worked there, but it sticks in my memory. Her assumption was that I had never knit a baby blanket (false) and couldn’t know knitting very well (very false) simply because of my age. Had she taken even a moment longer to look at our group she might have realized that I had the most complicated project in the whole knitting circle (lace shawl v. preemie hats for a charity), though assuming skill based on current project alone wouldn’t have served her that well either beyond acknowledging that I wasn’t dimwitted.

  2. Helen replied:

    How very —- irksome!
    Perhaps you could have your boss refer them to you some time :-) “Oh yes, we have quite a selection in fingering weight wools. I’m sure my able assistant will be able to help you find just what you need.”
    Or. “You know, my assistant recently took an advanced course in just that topic, she might be able to help you even better than I can”
    snicker.
    Or you could get a name tag that includes the title “Expert”.

  3. Ellen B. replied:

    These examples just reinforce the idea that knitting and crochet are “old lady” hobbies! No matter how many current yarny magazines have patterns submitted by youthful, forward-thinking designers, I guess the old stereotypes survive.
    My advice: Just keep knitting, designing and helping those who warrant your sage and experienced advice! The customers suffering from ageism are out of luck!

  4. sam replied:

    I work at a local Joann Fabrics store. I’m 19, and I’m a parttime manager. So there are times where it’s me and one other person and some angry customer says I need to speak to the manager, and well it’s me. they’re surprised that a. I’m a manager, and b. that I know alot about sewing and knitting! It’s tough, but it’s nice to show them you can actually talk intelligently about where you work.

  5. Dava replied:

    It’s unfortunate, but those customers lurk everywhere, not just in yarn shops. I think you described it best with this sentence: “They found a niche and they don’t stray from it.” If they are afraid to expand their knitting skills, it’s likely their social skills suffer as well. It’s hard not to, but don’t take it personally.

    It works the other way, too! I’m much older than the managers at the farm stand I work at and customers often look at me to “fix” the problem when the manager has given them an answer they didn’t want to hear.

  6. Sarah replied:

    Also happened to me all the time at the yarn stores I worked in. I would be helping a customer, she wouldn’t like my answer (example: there is no foolproof way to prevent stockinette from curling without a border) and would demand my boss. Of course, when she gave her the same response it was believed without a murmur.

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