When the apocalypse hits, Wabi Sabi, on the corner of Wellington Street West and Melrose Avenue in Hintonburg, might be the spot to be. If for no other reason then Judy Enright, owner of the boutique yarn and knitting store, will be there, likely with a cup of hot tea ready, and plenty of warm knitted clothes.
“For Christmas this year, my husband bought me a spinning wheel,” says Enright. The snowstorm is starting to hit outside, and Enright pours a cup of tea. “I feel like I’m ready for the apocalypse — I can knit clothing, and I can spin yarn now to make clothing. So we’re all good to go.”
Wabi Sabi has been around for a while, supplying Ottawa’s knitting community with high-end yarns for just over ten years. But last June, it changed ownership when Enright, a former civil service worker, bought the store.
“I worked for Library and Archives, and I just realized that I had had enough, I couldn’t do it anymore,” says Enright. The had thought about buying Wabi Sabi a couple of years earlier, but it wasn’t the right fit. Then she says she “saw that it had been put up for sale again, and I thought ‘I think we can do it this time.’”
What she didn’t realize, before taking over the reigns of the store, was that what she’d really bought was a hub of the knitting community in the city. “I’ve only realized this after taking ownership: it’s a real neat little community-based store,” says Enright. “I was overwhelmed, really, by the amount of people that came up and said ‘thank you for buying the store.’ People are really happy that there’s still this community yarn store where they can come and have a weekly Sip ’n Stitch.”
The rest of it has been an adventure, too: Enright has never been a business owner before, and she says the learning curve has been steep.
The story of Wabi Sabi is both about what has changed and what is staying the exact same. The art and task of knitting has a kind of ancient quality to it. It is generally unconcerned with the latest electronic gadget. As the world gets faster-paced and more connected, knitting has kept pace.
“Knitting, in my opinion, started to have a renaissance maybe five, six years ago, where it shifted from [being] what your grandmother did to [something] like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool. I think I want to learn that,’” says Enright. “We have a lot of young women, teenagers, twenty- and thirty-year-olds who are really into it. They blog, they write about it. They come in and show us what they make.”
(If you’re interested in learning to knit, Wabi Sabi offers classes for beginners.)
Keeping the store at the heart of that community, especially as it appears to be growing among new demographics, is one of the things that Enright is focused on. She kept all the same staff when she bought the store, and brought in two other employees from a yarn store that had recently closed. To her, the soul of the store — the thing that makes Wabi Sabi relevant in an age when you can buy anything on Amazon — is in the people that fill it. “The women that work here are amazing, and I have to say — that’s what we offer,” says Enright. “You can come here with your (knitting) problems, and we’ll help you out. It’s that grassroots, one-on-one environment that we offer.”
Wabi Sabi stocks yarns from around the world, says Enright. But she wants to focus on the work of local yarn suppliers as well. “Our most local is just a couple blocks over. She lives in Westboro, and she dyes with all natural things — she uses rainwater, and things like onion skins and marigolds,” she says. But they also have yarns from the United States and other countries. This is, by and large, not the wool you might remember from grade school crafts; they sell wool at all price points, from the affordable wool for beginners to more advanced knitters. “We just want people to know that if you have a special project in mind, we can hook you up with a special yarn,” says Enright.
Which is not to say that nothing’s changing at Wabi Sabi, now that there’s a new boss. Enright says she wants to modernize a little bit. “We’re just about to launch online sales as well, which is really big. Really, really big,” says Enright. “We’re really trying to bring it up to the 21st century. I’m trying to bring it up to the turn of the century. The previous owner was great — she left great bones — but I wanted to infuse a little more currentness to it.” Also in the plans is a line of signature wool for the store.
All told, it’s been a crazy eight months for Enright and for the store. “I have to say, it’s only now where I can take a breath,” she says. But it also means setting her sights on other, longer-term goals. She can “start thinking more about partnerships now” she notes. Around Christmas, they partnered with the Hintonburg Pottery Shop for a make-your-own yarn bowl pottery workshop. She says she hopes to grow those partnerships in the future.
“We’re trying to figure out something with the Cat Café next door,” she says. “We just haven’t figured out what we could partner on. Other than a ball of yarn.”
Wabi Sabi is located at 1078 Wellington St W, and is open seven days a week.
Know a small business in the city that you think would be interesting for our Midweek Mugging? Email Kieran Delamont at email@example.com