There's running a coffee shop, and there's running a yarn shop. Both of these are worthy ventures, and I love to support people who run worthy ventures. Our favourite coffee shop at the moment is probably Catherine and Piper in Lilyfield. We like it because, although the service is often slow because it is so busy, the vibe is great and the food is excellent. The staff are always going flat tack and that creates a kind of buzz. The tables are private (even though they're close together), it's not too noisy even when it's full and the coffee is really excellent.
Favourite yarn shop is more difficult. Morris and Sons is great, but it's in the city and we're not there very often. (Interestingly, someone at work the other day told me she hates going in there because there are often people knitting at the big table, and she feels like it is the meeting of a cult. She doesn't feel welcomed as if, by not being one of the in-crowd, she is an intruder.) Their new branch The Granny Square, which is quite local to us, has a lovely atmosphere, but I have to be honest and say that some of the staff aren't very cluey. The last time I was in there the staff member treated me like an clueless idiot about my purchase, even though I was wearing a complex handknit, and she couldn't find my name in their database - until my companion walked around behind her and pointed it out.
So on Saturday, when we were visiting our favourite Newtown shop ever and needed a restoring latte, we thought we'd try out A Coffee and a Yarn. As coffee-drinking knitters, we'd been intending to check this place out for a while. It sounds like such a great idea - coffee and yarn in the same place. But I think it's a harder mix than it sounds to pull off.
Some of the yarn was interesting, especially the Ecoyarns offerings - yum! - although it's all available online from various sources, but there are no patterns, stitch markers or other accoutrements available, except a small selection of needles.There is a huge box full of old (and I mean OLD!) knitting patterns and books on one wall, and one tattered copy of Vogue Knitting was a source of amusement to the two gay boys who were sharing our table. (ACAY is big on this sharing thing, with the few tables being mostly large and square so you almost always have to share with someone. Sharing with strangers is not what I like to do in a coffee shop.)
The coffee was excellent, but it wasn't worth the twenty-minute wait - there was only one staff member at lunch-time on a Saturday. There is no leaf tea. There was very little food, although the polenta cake we had was very fresh. The decor is probably meant to be shabby chic, but photocopies of old knitting patterns stuck arond the place struck us as only shabby. The huge front windows made us feel as if we were on display and, as I said, the tables aren't private.
As every yarn shop owner and salesperson will tell you, to sell yarn you need to have a knitting support service. People are going to ask if they yarn they want to buy is suitable for the pattern they have in mind, or they will want to be shown a pattern for the yarn they have or want, or they will be looking for yarn for a particular pattern. They are going to bring in their patterns, and ask what SSK means, or if the neck would look better if they made it higher, or even, in tears, ask for emergency rescue with tricky shaping. There is no way you'd get this service at A Coffee and a Yarn. There weren't enough staff for the coffee, never mind the yarn.
So, overall, we probably won't be back. I'm glad there are more yarn shops in this part of the world (heavens knows there are more than enough coffee shops!) but I think there are things they haven't thought out at ACAY. They need to provide more - more staff, good tea, more food and faster service on the food side; and/or more products and better service on the knitting side. There wasn't enough of either the coffee or the yarn, and I think it would be better if they at least tried to make one or other of them their raison d'etre, and the other the sideline. Coffee or tea buyers usually want to be served and left in peace; yarn buyers are more likely to want concentrated attention for longer. As long as they keep trying to do everything, the two sides of the business will continue to be a less than happy mix. Without more staff and more stock they're going to struggle to continue to fill both the coffee and the yarn sides of the business.