From the December 18, 2020 edition of The Hutchinson News.
"People are working really hard but this is going leave a mark, let’s put it that way," Andrea Springer says of the pandemic's effect on Kansas. Springer, left, and her husband Steve Snook opened The Wool Market and DIY School in downtown Hutchinson in August 2018. (Dave McKane)When you run a yarn store, you hear people’s troubles.
When Andrea Springer and Steve Snook opened the Wool Market & DIY School in downtown Hutchinson in August 2018, they planned for a hard first three years — but not for a pandemic. (Wool Market and DIY School/Facebook)
In one of the last classes before The Wool Market and DIY School closed due to COVID-19, participants learned how to dye wool by hand in February 2020. They wore masks to keep from inhaling powdered dye. (Andrea Springer)
They were actually ahead, sales-wise, until September.
“People don’t think about knitting and crocheting when it’s hot outside, but the State Fair is when we see it gear up with foot traffic,” she said of the annual event that draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city of just over 40,000 but was canceled this year.
Now, she said, they’re hanging on. Even despite a much-needed downtown infrastructure project that’s blocked the street and sidewalk out front, she said, people still find them.
Over the past couple of years, Springer watched the Wool Market & DIY School become a “tourist attraction” over the holidays.
“We get a lot of traffic and sales the week after Thanksgiving and before and after Christmas, when people have relatives in looking for things to do,” she said. “We don’t have that now because we should be staying home.”
But the thing about building community is, it’s there when you need it.
What Springer called “amazing” was how people responded to RallyReno.org, a gift-card program set up by the Hutchinson/Reno Chamber of Commerce, the Hutchinson Community Foundation and the United Way of Reno County. Donors matched every gift certificate purchased, raising more than $150,000 in about six weeks, all of which went to small businesses.
“Every single day, we remind ourselves we are grateful for what we’ve been given and the support we have,” Springer said.
“We willingly closed our business in support of the greater good, and that was a sacrifice,” she says, but the response affirmed that they’re offering something of value.
Now, she says, customers come in and check on them.
“That’s what I love about Kansas,” she said. “We’re not perfect, but there’s some community here.”
The pandemic will “leave a mark” on the state, she said.
But when I asked Springer to explain what she loves about her craft, I heard a metaphor.
“If there’s something I don’t like, it’s not coming together, I can pull it apart and there are an infinite number of do-overs,” she said. “I can try a different yarn, go at it form a different angle. Not everything in life works that way. Knitting does.”
Maybe that’s one lesson from this awful year: More things in life should work like knitting.
From the January 7, 2019 edition of The Hutchinson News.
From the October 16, 2018 edition of The Hutchinson News.
Her hands deftly worked the autumnal hued yarn as we sat at one of the retro chrome and Formica topped dinette tables. The atmosphere was more like a casual visit with a friend than an interview with the proprietors of Hutchinson’s recently-opened premier fiber art shop.
As we talked, it became clear that this was much more than just a new commercial venture. Andrea Springer along with husband, Steve Snook, realized their dream with the establishment of The Wool Market & DIY School at the former location of Johnson’s Music Center at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Main Street.
Though both hold a degree in communications, their varied careers include his work as a respiratory therapist, hers as a marketing consultant for non-profit organizations and recently at Hutchinson Community College’s Radio Kansas. The key to this venture, however, may be found in their dedication to building community, perhaps most notably in their devotion to providing support for the public’s access to cultural and artistic opportunities.
Snook serves on the board of Stage 9, the venture that offers stage productions to Hutchinson like the highly successful run of “Fiddler on the Roof” presented at the Historical Fox Theater. The Fox has figured strongly in their lives as Andrea served as the director for the restoration of the iconic facility. The Fox also provided the setting for their wedding ceremony.
A Kansas native originally from Wichita, Steve’s family was involved in the early stages of the development of the aviation industry -- his father an engineer at Boeing, his grandfather included in the Aviation Hall of Fame. Andrea was raised on the family farm in Illinois. It was there at an early age that she was introduced to knitting by a cousin involved in 4-H. Creative efforts played an influential role in her large extended family that produced painters, furniture makers, welded metal sculptors and other accomplished crafters.
Inspired by her personal experiences at similar gatherings of knitters around the county, with Steve’s assistance Andrea held a number of such retreats in Kansas. The interest and enthusiasm generated by those events were instrumental in making their commitment to providing Hutchinson a “brick-and-mortar” establishment offering hand-dyed yarns, roving – a combed natural Marino wool - hard to find materials or notions and instruction in a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere that stresses the importance and some would say endangered concept of customer service and satisfaction.
A wide variety of supplies, notions and array of quality garment yarns offered at a range of prices are at the forefront of inventory but the shop also offers work consigned by area artisans and novelty items promoting Hutchinson and Kansas. An area is provided where friends can enjoy a quiet conversation or a spouse can sit comfortably and relax with a cup of coffee while waiting. An unexpected feature offered at the shop is instruction in tying fish flies incorporating bits of fiber, taught by a local angler. At present sewing machines are available for hourly rental with plans to provide access to a 3-D printer, die-cutting machine and photography for artists/crafters wanting to publish images of their work. Also, for those looking to accommodate events such as a reception, shower, reunion, seminar or similar gathering, the large area adjoining the retail space is available for rental.
Various guilds and clubs from around the region have plans to visit Hutchinson to include the shop in their excursions. Recent customers have included visitors from Pratt, Halstead and a surprising number traveling from Wichita.
While offering customers access to supplies, instruction and services is the primary goal of The Wool Market & DIY School, there is a larger purpose that Steve and Andrea strive to serve. Their commitment to serving the community and bringing people together in support of the city is of the utmost importance to them. In contrast to the loss of national commercial retailers, they like to point out the established and increasing number of newer locally owned ventures; citing among others Smith’s Market, the Antique District, Tesori Boutique, Bluebird Books, the Toy Depot, Jackson’s Meats, the Salt City Brewery, the soon to open Clayworks.
I would add it is up to those of us who believe in Hutchinson to support those efforts.
Kathie Moore, rural Hutchinson, is a freelance artist, retired from the U.S. Postal Service. Email her at email@example.com.
From the October 14, 2018 edition of The Hutchinson News.
From the September 2, 2018 edition of The Hutchinson News:
By John Green
As she and her husband visited shops during their travels over the years, they’d look for the unique and local, then discuss after leaving what set the shop apart, said new Hutchinson business owner Andrea Springer.
“Often our destinations over the past couple of years were to find some venues around the country and Canada that really were iconic, that really stood out,” said Springer.
On Tuesday, Springer will open her own store, The Wool Market & DIY School, inside the former Johnson’s Music store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main, with that in mind.
“One of the things we realized is you have to have more than just yarn,” she said. “Part of it is creating a destination. Experiential retail is our goal. We want people to come in even if they don’t knit or crochet.”
Besides high-quality yarns and knitting supplies sold in the north half of the building, the south half of the space will be devoted to craft classes of all kinds.
“The retail side will cater to people who do handmade items: knitting, crocheting, weaving, spinning, all kinds of needlework,” Springer said. “We also have fun Kansas souvenirs.”
Amongst its yarn, the store carries certified Fair Trade Manos yarns, high-quality wool that “feels good in the hands,” she said, and which benefits the women of Uruguay who spin it.
Photo by Travis Morisse
While she’s spent a career working for non-profits, including the past decade with public radio, the passing of her close friend, Patsy Terrell, at a relatively young age, followed by conversations with her husband about their future, prompted Springer to think seriously about what to do with the next decades of her life. She knew first that it had to involve creativity.
Her love of craft, and a desire to share it go back to childhood. Hers was a farming family, Springer said, “but when not farming, they were making things with their hands.”
That included painting with her grandmother when they visited, often merely with house paint, and quilting. Her uncles were a furniture maker and finish carpenter, who built them toys.
“The point was, we had this huge unwritten permission slip growing up, whatever we wanted to make, we could do it,” she said. “Some kids growing up are encouraged in sports. I grew up in a family where making and being creative was encouraged.”
Besides the creativity itself, another important aspect of the classes is the social community that grows out of them, Springer said.
“This gives an opportunity for people to meet who otherwise might not meet, around a common interest,” she said.
“It won’t be just traditional classes in knitting and crocheting,” Springer said. “We’re going to build classes originally.”
Photo by Travis Morisse
They’ve set up prefabricated office-type cubicles to give them movable walls for their classrooms, to make it a more flexible space.
They added a commercial sink to do “wet projects” such as fabric or fiber dying, Springer said.
“We’ve set up a tech area to do photography classes,” Springer said. “We’ve got sewing machines to rent by the hour in practice rooms. We have other craft-type equipment that’s a little more expensive people may not want to own, like a vinyl cutter and button makers.”
Later, they hope to develop the ability to live-stream classes off the internet.
“It’s tempting to want to nail everything down, all the things we want to do,” Springer said. “But we decided to set up a framework to develop classes based on what the community wants to learn. We’re talking macramé, knitting, weaving and crocheting. We have people available to teach photography. But we’re open to working with other artisans in any way possible to offer our space for that hands-on learning.”
“If we have six people that want to learn to do something, if they come to us, we’ll find an instructor and set up the class,” Springer said.
The only things they won’t offer, she said, are woodworking and ceramics because they don’t have a fire sprinkler system in the building.
“We want to really focus on Kansas folks,” Springer said. “We want Kansas artisans in here, curated artisans. We really want to celebrate Kansas, to celebrate Hutch.”
It was not just crafters they thought of when developing the store.
“There are sitting areas, where we want people to come and hang out,” she said. “As my husband said, he sat outside (fabric stores) on a bench too many times because there was no place inside to sit. There’s a waiting area for people connected to other folks who are shopping to have a place to hang out.”
Photo by Travis Morisse
They intentionally looked for a space downtown, to be part of that culture, but also to give back to the community by rejuvenating an iconic space. The music store graced Main Street for some 60 years.
The building, constructed in 1923, was originally two separate parcels, but Johnson’s joined them, Springer said.
Involved with the remodel of Hutchinson’s Fox Theatre in the 1990s, “old building don’t scare me,” Springer said.
“We polished the concrete floor, installed new electrical boxes and a waterline,” she said. They replaced lighting and some wiring. They also had to tuck point and seal the building’s north wall, which had moisture problems.
The décor includes items they found left behind in the store, including a pair of trombones – Steve’s late father was a Big Band trombone player for years – as well as pieces of furniture passed down within the family or that the couple has purchased over the years.
“We were lucky to have a network of friends over the years, whenever we had a question, they were able to answer it,” Springer said.
The store, open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, will employ two or three people.
“We want to welcome people when they come in the door,” Springer said. “We want to help you. You don’t have to know how to do anything. We’ll get you started.”
Photo by Travis Morisse