Linda Urquhart, longtime owner of Rumpelstiltskin
In 1972, yarn and crafts shop Rumpelstiltskin only opened during lunchtime. Those were the days, huh? That changed a year later, though, when then-22-year-old Linda Urquhart bought the place with money borrowed from her parents—only $1,000 or something like that, she says. As shopkeeper and an avid knitter, she transformed Rumpelstiltskin into a destination, retiring in June after 43 years. Urquhart still knits every day—it’s a good excuse to watch television—and, now that free time is finally a thing, sat down with SN&R to talk about the shop’s beginnings, craft trends and how more dudes should take up knitting.
R Street is getting so trendy now. What was it like when you first moved in?
It was dirt, railroad tracks and, in the winter, it’d be like a big pond. In fact, [the owner of] Alpine West—it was an outdoor store—for a publicity stunt, he got a kayak out, put it in the street, sat it in, took a picture. It looked like he was in a lake. (Laughs.) It was really a mess, and there was nobody around us. It was just the building. Fox & Goose didn’t open for another couple of years.
What did you do before social media and the internet to reach customers?
We did mailers. We had to get a bulk mail rate. We had to stamp or get it printed. You don’t want to phone people, so we didn’t do that. In-store promotions. Old school stuff. Mailing lists. We did TV ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, all the old stuff.
When was knitting at its most popular?
Probably 2008. It was a big crest for knitting. Nobody knows exactly why, but it was the stock market crash, people were out of work, people were upset. It’s a zen kind of thing. It makes you feel good to knit, and it’s social. And scarves were really big back then, and you could knit a scarf. I think a combination of factors just made knitting huge, and right before that, it was really bad.
Where is it right now?
It seems to be really popular. A lot of young people are knitting. It’s really exciting because it used to be that you didn’t knit in public—it was kind of embarrassing. But now it seems to be a pretty hip thing to do.
Has Rumpelstiltskin had much competition over the years?
In 2008, 2009, when it was so huge, I had 11 stores open up within 10 miles. And that was really scary because you think they’re going to dilute your customer base, but they all went out of business pretty fast. … We managed to outlive just about everybody. There are stores around now but nobody as old.
I’ve heard it’s good for your health.
It’s supposed to be good for your brain: the counting and two-handedness. And blood pressure. For some reason, because it’s so slow maybe, it just sort of calms you down. There’s a thing too about mental illness and anxiety—it helps people with that because they have to concentrate on what they’re doing and they don’t think about stuff. It’s just very satisfying. You can buy a sweater or you can spend a million hours knitting one. (Laughs.)
How are you enjoying retirement?
I’m very much enjoying it. I was feeling anxious about it because I’ve worked since I was born. (Laughs.) Very, very busy. But I’m kind of scheduled—I’m working for Habitat for Humanity, I just signed up [online] to read with kids and I’m gonna probably do some political volunteering. … And I just tore out my lawn. So it’s actually been pretty busy.
Were you nervous about having too much time?
Yeah, I don’t like that.
I still don’t see many men knitting.
Oh but there are! We have a lot more men knitting—not as many as women, but they get more attention if they’re knitting. A guy knitter! But a lot of them are knitting to make something for a girlfriend or to make something you need that not everyone else has: skateboarder hats, ski hats. There are a lot more guys knitting. It’s not a stigma anymore. Last year, I had a guy from Sac State. His assignment was to take a class where he’d be made really uncomfortable. And so he thought a knitting class. … Tattooed, bald, beard, big guy—kinda scary. He came to class and everyone was just like, “Oh nice to meet you.” Everyone was helpful and nice. At the end of class, he said, “I thought it would be different.”
So it didn’t make him uncomfortable? That’s really funny.
Knitters are so inclusive and not judgmental—most of the time. … One day, I was at the store and three big, rough-looking guys rushed through the door and I thought, “Oh, I’m gonna be robbed.” And they were the cutest, nicest guys. They were in to buy yarn for crochet. It really has changed.