I have been knitting for over 50 years and during that time the face of knitting has changed so much. Time was that I could only purchase yarn at my local department store and then it was either horrible itchy wool or 100 percent acrylic that knitted up into a stiff board like thing! Patterns were few and many knitters just made up their own.
Local yarn stores started popping up carrying new and exciting yarns, patterns and accessories. You were able to get help choosing yarns or patterns or learn a new stitch. But the yarns were very expensive compared to the department store varieties and in those days we watched our pennies.
But as time went on knitters wanted the new lovely yarns that we started to see in more and more knitting magazines. These yarns were only available at the local yarn store and once we started knitting with them there was no going back. We became loyal to our LYS and often that would be our source of knitting supplies.
With the advent of the Internet knitting changed once again. You don't have to go to the yarn store for advice. You can now get help on any topic by simply googling it. Knitters at sites like Ravelry are happy to share their knowledge and you can get advice on anything from pattern directions and corrections to yarn choices - which yarn works, which doesn't. You can download free patterns or purchase patterns that are downloaded directly to your computer.
I recently acquired an iPad and have been introduced to the world of "apps". You can get knitting applications that help keep track of rows to automatically resizing a sweater and are often free or a nominal charge. Lately, I have started getting magazines sent directly to my iPad through a company called Zinio. The resolution is amazing and I can keep the magazine in my library without having stacks of paper copies all over the house. Knitting books are also slowly becoming available on sites such as audible.com or amazon. And as most of you already know books are always available online for much cheaper than retail or you can buy even cheaper used books.
What about actually purchasing yarn? Well, we now have great online stores available to us like oneplanetyarnandfiber.com. These sites offer a wealth of yarn companies to choose from - many of which we don't see at the LYS. Prices are comparable to our local store and at times even cheaper. People used to say - well, you can't get an accurate idea of color. That just isn't the case anymore, the only thing missing is the ability to feel the yarn. But descriptions are getting better and knitters are more educated when it comes to knowing what a wool and silk blend feels like for example. But best of all, and this is what I love, you find a perfect pattern and with a few clicks you can get the exact yarn with a color card of ALL the available colors. Not just the ones the store owner liked. No more settling for a color you don't really want or substituting a yarn that may or may not work.
Does all this mean I want to see the end of brick and mortar stores? Absolutely not! I have my favorite yarn stores where I will continue to spend money and time. What I am saying is that in order to survive in this tough economy the LYS has to reassess it's place in the market. No longer can owners and staff be surly or unfriendly to customers. No longer can a store be seen as catering to only certain customers while ignoring others. No longer can stores have staff that are not experienced and knowledgeable. And no longer can stores be limited to one specialty. Many stores now offer weaving, spinning and dying as well as knitting and crochet such as the Fiber Factory in Mesa Arizona. And more and more stores are offering an Internet presence.
A brick and mortar knitting store is definitely not a necessity anymore and because of that fact need to adjust to the times.