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.”
To contact Robert Beck or see more of his work, visit robertbeck.net
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