By Robert Beck
I have a fondness for roads that diverge in a wood. Going where things are done differently, or where different things are done, opens your eyes and mind. Painting in places I’ve never been before helps me grow. Knitty City, on 79th between Amsterdam and Broadway, would normally be off-trail for me, shopping-wise, but the color and movement were a challenge worth trying to meet.
A camera would capture the exacting detail, but I was after the feeling I got from being there, which was a touch chaotic. The subject offered no good place to start, so I began with the hope that I could fix whatever I did somewhere along the way. Wade in and see what I get.
The store’s modest disarray points toward its focus on being a gathering place and resource for the knitting community rather than a merchandising star. The crocheted tree-cozy out front is indicative of that kinship: a memorial to the founder, Pearl. I’m surprised the American Folk Art Museum hasn’t come for it.
Even I could tell the store has an impressive selection of yarn. I heard customers comment on it as they passed me coming and going. There are quite a few books, too, and tables in the back of the room where people work on their latest projects. What there isn’t much of is space to maneuver.
I painted for three-and-a-half hours. It was clear that the people caring for customers are all-in on knitting. I heard one of the staff comment that she “works for yarn.” People came through the door in waves.
A customer arrived with a project she was having a problem with, and a worker sat down at the table and got her through it. A woman and her granddaughter were passing by outside and stopped in to see what was happening. The girl ended up having a first lesson. Now she can knit. More men were shopping for yarn than I would have guessed. There was a lot going on.
Before showing up to paint, I searched online to learn about the business. Among glowing comments, I saw one from a customer who said they had trouble getting someone to take care of them and was never coming back. It reminded me of the old Yogi Berra quote: “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”
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Appreciate the elegant charm of both your paintings and essays. Keep up the keen observations, Mr. Beck!
Knitty City is a UWS treasure and a haven for the ever-growing knitting community. Despite the apparent disarray, the yarn packed into the small space is actually well-organized by weight and brand. The original owner, Pearl Chin, is sorely missed but it’s good to know the shop is carrying on her helpful and friendly tradition. Thanks, Robert Beck, for capturing the warm, lively vibe of this great little UWS institution.
I only went in this store once. As a beginning knitter I was promptly encouraged to “come and sit “ anytime . I bought a skein of yarn that was hand-dyed for this store and given ideas for one skein projects. The ambiance and welcome made it clear there was community to be found here. Unfortunately, I moved away shortly after . Lovely painting and article.
Knitty Witty Knitty City I just knit an itty bitty…but the folks there are great. When the womens’ protest march demanded pussy hats a few years ago – these gals were the Goddesses . I made a donation and got two for my sister and me…but that is not the point here. What matters is you. Bob, have yet again told a great story of another neighborhood institution. I really feel the bustle of the energy in this place from your lovely painting.
From your Biggest Fan and Knit Wit….
Everyone is welcome and everyone fits in, at Knitty City. Pearl left us such a unique gift with this shop. I stop in whenever I’m in NY. It’s just an extraordinary experience. Your paintings capture its elan!
I was in a yarn shop somewhere in Alaska and the owner knew Peral of Knitty City. It’s a real treasure.
I live in Wisconsin and come to NYC to visit my daughter. Every time I get in a visit to Knitty City. I always find a new project to knit. Last time was an adorable toddler dress for my granddaughter. Thanks, I love the store.
I happened across this store while walking to meet some out-of-town friends at the museum of natural history. It was serendipity!! Naturally I bought some yarm!
I live in New Jersey, but it’s a happy memory.
Knitty City is a great visit! Treasure your local yarn stores, you never know how long they’ll be there.