City Shop Threads Together Old, New Customers

When Carmen Jalkh learned her favorite yarn store was going to close, she wound up opening her own shop. That was about a year ago and now she operates the Yarn Basket on Annapolis' Maryland Avenue. There, knitters and crocheters come for supplies, classes and advice. And Jalkh focuses on promoting her shop via social media and word of mouth to encourage customers to stop at brick and mortar stores, as opposed to shopping online.

While her customers may have trouble finding parking nearby, she reminds them that if they shop online, they pay for shipping.

"How can you be without a yarn shop? Tell me that," said Jalkh, who was born in Germany and moved to the United States in the 1980s.

"If you go in a store, you see the color you have," she said. "You can walk up the street, get daylight, you understand what color you get. You know how colors look on a computer? You don't get true color."

The Yarn Basket is rooted in the Yarn Garden at the Festival at Riva shopping center. Customer Alexandra Woods bought the shop in 1996 and ran it until it closed last year.

Since then, knitting sessions have been offered at the Double T Diner and the Anne Arundel County Library's Annapolis branch on West Street, according to the business' website. The Yarn Garden site directs visitors to Jalkh's Yarn Basket. Woods could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Gayle Skeete was also a customer at the previous store. She had learned about an available space on Maryland Avenue and wanted the Yarn Garden to move there. That didn't work out, but she said she was pleased Jalkh took over the space.

Now Skeete goes to the Yarn Basket regularly. A friend of her grandmother's taught her to knit when she was a child living in New York. Currently, she's juggling several projects — a purse, a sweater and a scarf for a friend's husband.

"It's like yoga. It's a part of my life," said Skeete, who lives in the Annapolis area. "There are very few days where I can't find at least 10 minutes to knit alone."

Customer Kelly Lange discovered the store about six months ago, when she happened to be walking along Maryland Avenue. Prior to that, she would buy yarn at various places and in Baltimore, when she had doctor's appointments there.

Lange said her mother taught her to knit. Through Jalkh, she learned a trick that allows her to mark her work, which makes it easier to fix in case of mistakes.

"I'm an avid knitter and it's been such a long time since we had such a high-quality knitting shop in our community," said Lange, an Eastport resident. "It's a nicer activity than fiddling with an iPad and Facebook."

Jalkh lives in Calvert County and continues to hold a corporate job. She has been able to network with other shops in the community by participating in the Charm City Yarn Crawl. Each April, participating shops in the Baltimore area — including the Knitting Boutique in Glen Burnie — offer discounts and promotions.

Jalkh's customers have been all ages — some lifelong knitters, some focusing on a project, for instance as a gift for a new baby. Some are fans of the TV show "Outlander" and want to make shawls and socks befitting the series' timeline.

Jalkh said that in the future she'd like to expand and perhaps add a coffee shop. But for now she has to keep up with the fashion magazines and anticipate what colors will be trendy in upcoming seasons.

"This is not the business of little old ladies anymore," Jalkh said. "More and more you have to anticipate what the fashion world has, in order to match your stuff to it."

Originally posted in the Capital Gazette.

Carmen Jalkh