ST. ALBANS CITY — Ask Katy Collin what makes her store unique and she’ll give you the same answer as her customers.
“I’ll be really honest with you,” Collin said. “What separates me from the other stores is me.”
Collin’s store, What a Yarn, faces competition on all sides — from big names like Jo-Ann Fabrics and Walmart, as well as from the faceless digital markets chasing retailers out of small-town storefronts.
But Collin is anything but faceless. Several people plopped on the couch in front of What a Yarn in the midst of the Messenger’s interview just to chat with her.
“I’m very interactive with my customers,” Collin said.
She sends her customers a newsletter every Tuesday. Collin said it’s “completely raw” in the way it exposes “all the [expletive] that I do.”
“They think I’m an expert and I know everything about knitting,” Collin said. “So when I sit there, and I tell them what a moron I am, and all the crap that I have to go through — I mean, they love it.
“It makes me human to them, and it makes their defeats not seem so bad, because they realize everybody does it.”
It sounds like Collin has a knitting style that’s, accordingly, as unique as her personality.
“I make up my own instructions,” she said, on the edge of the storefront couch with laughter. “And I look at it, and I didn’t even — I’m not even close to what it told me to do! I’m off in left field doing my own thing.”
That sounds like how Collin might summarize her path to What a Yarn.
Collin is a St. Albans native who got out of Vermont as soon as she could. She finished college, drove to Colorado, and never looked back. She skied, she camped, she fell in love.
Then family members got sick. Collin and her family moved back into her childhood home, where she now resides.
Collin moved from job to job. None stuck. She wanted to stay local without the dreaded Chittenden County commute.
So she decided to open her own place.
“I’m a knitter,” Collin said. “I love fibers. I always went into lots of yarn shops. It’s what I love to do.”
What a Yarn opened in 2011, in the back of a space then occupied by Bayberry Cottage.
Collin’s store began with 100 square feet.
What a Yarn was there for six months before moving to the back of where her shop is now. At the time, the Willow Tree, a mixed retail space including clothing, Vermont art and antiques, occupied most of the space. What a Yarn had moved up to 400 square feet.
A year passed before the Willow Tree moved to Stowe. That’s when Collin took over the entire shop.
“It was crazy, because I had about six weeks’ notice,” she remembered. “I was freaking out.”
But it had actually been her ideal location. It had been previously occupied by another knitting and antique store, Gwen’s Yarn and Antiques Store.
And when the Willow Tree closed, Collin inherited its antique collection, bringing antiques and yarn together again.
She called that “a gift,” “icing” that helped defray costs.
“It really helped me kind of anchor myself a little bit, and get a little income going with money that I wasn’t investing in,” Collin said.
She said the antiques in the store’s cellar level bring tourists in the late summer and in the fall. And while the store draws the most knitters in the colder months, Collin seems to have a core base always eager for a good yarn — and her company.
“That’s what I hear from my customers,” she said. “‘You know, they might have this, that or the other thing, but it’s just… it’s just not you.’
“I worked very hard for that.”
Some consider her yarn “more ‘high end,’” as Collin put it. It costs a little more than Jo-Ann or Walmart. But Collin said it’s better quality, too.
“And then on top of it, I can actually help you,” she said.
At other stores, “if you’ve dropped a stitch, you’re screwed. They can’t pick up that stitch and make you feel like a rock star.
“It’s an experience here. Nobody just shops here, in my store. It just doesn’t happen.”
And that is certainly not a yarn.
What a Yarn is open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.