Tuesday, April 06, 2010


I am not the world's most assertive person.

I am totally comfortable working with teenagers, and I have no problem managing my classes...It's my peers that get me.

When grown-ups are rude, insensitive, nasty, and/or unprofessional (and I've worked with folks that managed to be all four at once!) I just have no idea what to do. Sometimes it's because I don't want to draw anyone's fire...sometimes it's just that I don't want to be seen as bitchy. I've always been a peacemaker, and I forget sometimes that just covering over a problem sometimes lets it fester, and ends up making me feel bitter and unappreciated. I've really been working on this in my relationships lately.

So, with that in mind, dear readers--let me regale you with a story of how I grew some gumption this weekend.

We had dropped the kids off in Olympia with Grandma and Grandpa and then drove the rest of the way to Portland for a gift-night-away. We checked into in this cool hotel and then headed out for some exploration. (We're pretty wild; our most solid plan included Powell's and the Deschutes Brewpub.) As we walked out the door in the rain, I think I actually heard the angels sing and saw the clouds part for just an instant: kitty corner from our hotel was--wait for it--Knit Purl.

As we walked past I made M promise that I could go back before it closed that day. The treat of visiting a yarn store I've heard about on many podcasts and seen ads for in my favorite publications gleamed like an aura around the rest of the afternoon. We had a lovely late lunch and a fantastic poke about Powell's, leaving with gifts for everyone. (I bought Alice Starmore's The Celtic Collection for $10 plus a Robin Hobb book I've been trying to find used; M bought a pint glass.) He decided to poke about for a bit more and head back to the hotel, releasing me to go to Knit Purl.

He knows well that he will be bored out of his mind if he goes to a new yarn store with me. My normal pattern is this:
  1. wander around the store 10 times (minimum) and take mental inventory of their stock list
  2. imagine all the projects I could make with all the yarn I see
  3. inspect the store samples
  4. fondle the yarns I haven't seen before in person
  5. pet the old familiar ones
  6. become completely overwhelmed because of course I don't have my queue with me or even know what's on it and hadn't planned to buy yarn today and - ooh is that Madelinetosh? - and what on earth do I need? needles? a project bag? aaaaaaaaah!
  7. then, and only then, buy something practical as a souvenir. (Seriously. In Port Townsend last month, I ended up with a row counter.)
This process usually takes me about 45 minutes. Now you see why M elected to go back to the hotel and read his book rather than watching me orbit the store like an ADD goldfish.

So here's where the gumption comes in.

There were about five or six other customers in the store, all pretty much doing the same thing as I was. Circling, petting, choosing--just breathing in the yarn fumes. But one customer was a bit more high maintenance. When I came in, she was at the counter and the saleswomen were looking something up for her on Ravelry. She was about 6 months pregnant, very chicly dressed--including those knitted Ugg boots that I personally think look like slippers but probably cost more than I make in two weeks) and sounded like she was an experienced knitter--asking about Spud and Chloe yarn (which Knit Purl doesn't carry), talking about patterns. She was completely monopolizing the sales staff and talking very loudly, running back and forth to the sock yarn wall (I think she was looking at the ShibuiKnits selection).

The thing that got me, though, was at one point, about two minutes after I walked in, the conversation turned to "big box" shopping.

Disparagingly, one of the saleswomen talked about when people come in asking for big box brands. "Oh, you have to go to someplace like Michael's for that, " she sneered.

"Yeah," said Preggo Uggs, mimicking their response to such a gauche request. "'Go out the door and up the road a few blocks.'"

"No," replied Snobby McSnobster. "For that I think you have to go to the suburbs."

Cue catty laughter all around.

The clouds rolled in on my lovely treat. The store's atmosphere went from boutique to bitch; from the best meaning of "exclusive" to the worst. I got a lump in my throat, and I felt like leaving--just slinking out the door. I clearly was not Knit Purl clientele material.

There's room in the world for every kind of knitter, I fumed silently, and knitting snobbery chaps my hide. If someone wants to use Red Heart for every project, at least they're knitting, and not axe murdering. If I were that saleswoman, I'd use that as an opening to say something like, "We don't carry that line here, but may I show you something similar?" or "Have you ever tried X?" Every person is a potential customer and every customer is worth your time and respect, even if they're going to leave with one skein of Cascade 220, not $250 worth of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino.

I pulled myself together, though, and ended up choosing two skeins of Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock in the colorway "Tahoe," a beautiful blend of purples and aquas. It just matched my mood (not to mention my shirt) and will be a lovely reminder of our rainy weekend in Portland.

(side note: I see why so many people buy sock yarn as souvenirs--it's usually a good price point, there are often local dyers available, and it's very portable. I just wish I knit more socks.)

As I took it up to the counter, I resolved to say something when I normally wouldn't have, when I usually would just have stored up my frustration and never darkened their doors again. As the saleswoman (not the snobby one, phew!) wrapped up my yarn and swiped my card, I mentioned how excited I'd been to see their store was so close to my hotel and that it was my first visit.

"Well, welcome!" she said.

"I don't mean to be rude," I said, "but I just wanted to say that I live in the suburbs, and I sometimes shop at Michael's. To hear that as a topic of conversation in such a disparaging tone when I came into the shop didn't feel very welcoming."

She looked a bit chagrined. "I can see that. I'm sorry."

"Just some food for thought from a customer service perspective," I said, smiling, and took my yarn.