60 Years of The Yarn Shop

In the late 1950’s my grandmother’s sister and her husband, Margie and Doc, were teachers in Glen Arbor, Michigan, near Traverse City. Margie liked to knit, so Doc had the idea of selling yarn to make money during the summer. They rented space and “The Yarn Shop” was born. Doc also ran small ads in a major magazine and sold yarn by mail during the winter.

A few years later the father-in-law of Margie and Doc’s daughter received a patent for a type of soda dispenser that is still used at restaurants today. Looking for more ways to supplement their teacher salaries, Doc bought a lot on the main drag in Glen Arbor and built himself a retail space with a soda fountain and ice cream on one side, and yarn for sale on the other side.

My mom and her Aunt Marge at the Yarn Shop in Glen Arbor, MI, in 1959

In the early 1960’s when I was a little girl we lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the same time, Margie and Doc’s daughter, Mary, and her husband, Ted, lived in Ipsilanti while Ted worked on his PhD at the University of Michigan. Mary and Ted had two kids, who were close in age to me and my sister. We spent quite a bit of time with them, travelling between our homes and to Glen Arbor.

I can still visualize the inside of the soda shop/yarn shop with it’s unique layout of soda counter with tables and chairs on one side, and displays of yarn on the other side. Fuzzy soda and sticky yarn. Outside in front were tables with trays of shells for sale. At that time Glen Arbor was a sleepy backwater town with a few stores, wide streets, and lots of sand everywhere. Lake Michigan was a couple of blocks to the north. I remember going to the Sleeping Bear sand dunes a few miles west, and to a swimming hole on the Crystal River in the opposite direction.

Later we moved back to Minnesota, and Mary and Ted settled in the D.C. area. Ted was a professor at American University, Mary was an elementary school teacher. Around 1975 Margie passed on and the next phase of the Yarn Shop and Soda shop began. Mary would spend the summer in Glen Arbor running the Yarn Shop, while their daughter Lissa and her high school friend, who were close to my age, worked at the Soda Shop.

Some time in the late 1970’s, after Doc passed on, the Yarn Shop moved to a different retail space in Glen Arbor and Lissa took over the Soda Shop. The growing number of tourists in the area needed more places to get food, so Lissa expanded the Soda Shop by adding a grill and making it into a full service restaurant. Around 1980 Lissa moved to Glen Arbor full time. Mary moved to Glen Arbor full time after Ted passed on and she had retired from teaching.

A Yarn Shop sign with Mary’s logo

By the mid 1980’s Lissa had sold the Soda Shop and moved on to other activities. The Yarn Shop grew into a thriving business in several different prime retail locations in Glen Arbor over the years, as the area became a popular summer tourist destination. In addition to selling yarn, Mary designed and knit original sweaters and knitwear that she brought to high end trunk shows.

Yarn for sale at The Yarn Shop in it’s hey day

I have always loved trips to Glen Arbor as an adult. All the colors and textures at the Yarn Shop were magical and inspiring, and Mary would always send me away with a new knitting project.

Another generation of our extended family modeling a Mary Turak creation

Over time the business climate evolved with more online yarn sales, and cost for commercial space increasing.  As Mary got older and rent went up, Lissa remodeled the main floor of her house in Glen Arbor into a lovely space for The Yarn Shop. 

A few years ago Lissa’s entrepreneurial nature kicked in and she repurposed most of her home retail space into a successful wine tasting room, featuring locally made wine and a large outdoor space for games and socializing, 6 feet apart for now. Check it out if you are in the area. https://www.glenarborwines.com/   As part of this evolution, the Yarn Shop was downsized and moved to an alcove on the side.  Mary was able to continue making a few yarn sales using the staff and point of sale system for the wine business, work on her knitting, and visit with customers.

Glen Arbor Wines is open for socially distant business

At the end of summer 2018 when Mary was 86, she finally decided to retire. The yarn was put into empty wine boxes and bags, and stashed in a back room with all the related accessories and fixtures. Lissa figured she would have to sell the yarn on EBay, but did not have time with her full time job as editor of Traverse Magazine, plus running Glen Arbor Wines, and taking care of her mom.

I have been knitting and spinning for a long time, and the wheels started to turn in my head when I heard that the Yarn Shop was closed. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a yarn shop! It would be cool to keep the Yarn Shop going in another location. I thought about all the positives and negatives and what I could do with all that yarn. I discussed the risks and benefits with my husband, considering that I was planning on retiring from my “day job” in the spring. I could sell yarn on the internet one way or another, or have in person sales from my parents large house on a lake, where we were expecting to move in the summer. After agreeing on a price with my cousin, I decided to go for it given that the worst case scenario was trying to unload the inventory on EBay and lose money on the deal. In any case it would be a crazy adventure, and we get to do that once in our life.

I had a four day weekend break from my school district job in October 2018, so we made the 12 hour drive from Minneapolis to Glen Arbor to get the yarn, thinking it would fit in our Honda CRV. HAHAHAHA. After we got there and saw the inventory, we realized no way would it all fit in the car. We rented a uhaul trailer at the last minute and it turned out to be one of those trips where you remember the details for years to come.  

Mary Turak in front of some Yarn Shop inventory that had been stashed in the back after closing the shop

By the time we had the UHaul Trailer, there were only a few hours to load up and get on our way. The wine boxes had to be repacked with less yarn so they could be shut and stacked in the trailer. Several people stepped up to help us toss yarn from shelves and overfilled boxes into plastic garbage bags, close up the boxes, and load everything into the trailer.  There were also fixtures with vintage buttons, boxes of accessories, finished sample knitted goods, patterns, and random miscellaneous related yarn stop “stuff” that Lissa would have no use for. Finally the trailer and the back of our car were both stuffed full and we hit the road.

Loading the trailer

We drove through Chicago both directions, staying overnight with our son in his condo. Heavy rain and wind whipped the trailer around on the way from Glen Arbor to Chicago. We were worried about parking when we arrived at James’s condo as it can be a challenge to find one parking spot. We needed TWO contiguous spaces on the street to fit the car with uhaul trailer attached. Amazingly, we found two spaces just around the corner.

Later at home I had fun dumping all the bags and boxes of yarn out on the floor in our downstairs for admiring, sorting and documenting. I made a spreadsheet, did an inventory, reorganized it, and reboxed it all up again. A funny moment happened when I opened one box and found empty wine bottles instead of yarn!!

Checking out boxes of yarn in our basement….oops one has empty wine bottles from Glen Arbor Wines
Yarn Shop inventory unloaded into our downstairs

The yarn shop inventory was stored in our downstairs guest bedroom for the rest of the fall and all winter. During that time we were packing and preparing to sell our house in the summer and move to my parents house near Fergus Falls, to take care of my mom.

That winter of 2019, my uncle Steve who is active with doings in Fergus Falls connected me with Torri Hanna, a weaver and fiber artist. Torri had just rented a storefront space in Fergus Falls with room for her multiple large looms as well as gallery space for fiber art, work space, and sales space. Torri and I started communicating and she agreed to sell my yarn on commission. With our move, taking care of my mom, and other unexpected things that happened, it took until fall 2019 to get all the yarn into Torri’s shop, Tangles to Treasures.

Vintage Buttons from The Yarn Shop

The commission sales arrangement has worked out very well for me and for Torri. There is room to display all the yarn at the shop, it is a better place for customers to access the yarn than our home outside of town, and Torri buys some of my yarn for her weaving projects.

Following is the website for Tangles to Treasures http://www.tanglestotreasures.com/ In addition to inventory from the Yarn Shop, Torri sells locally hand dyed yarn and wool yarn from sheep raised in the area, as well as Schacht looms, spinning wheels and related equipment, and one of a kind hand made goods. Torri is currently open on a limited basis and available to assist customers from a safe distance and via phone, and is exploring options for ecommerce.

My own hand spun yarn for sale at Tangles to Treasures

Looking back over all the unexpected events of 2019 and 2020, who could have predicted this evolution of The Yarn Shop or what our lives look like today with social distancing. We all look forward to some return to normalcy, and who knows what new adventures await.

Published by Meg Hanson

Hello. I am a recently retired empty nester. My husband and I moved to Jewett Lake in Otter Tail County, Minnesota, after living most of our lives in the Minneapolis area. I have no trouble keeping busy with knitting and spinning of wool, selling yarn and handmade goods, reading, walking, watching movies, surfing on the internet, traveling, doing bookkeeping for our family cabin, and spending time with family.

9 thoughts on “60 Years of The Yarn Shop

  1. Great memories of Doc and the soda shop. He always had extra soda! I also remember turning 3 walnut clocks on Doc’s wood lathe. I still cherish the clocks and memories now years later.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How many knitters would drool over the opportunity to buy the entire inventory of a yarn shop?? Lucky you. It is cool to see how the original idea of the Yarn Shop has evolved and changed with the times. And I love how you have kept it in the family but at the same time shared it with a new community. That is a win-win.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your story. I remember Mary and The Yarn Shop. I spent many hours in there and loved talking with her. I remember 3 different locations in the 40 years we have been part of Glen Arbor. I loved the buttons in that store, the picture brought back so many memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mrs. Turak was my fifth grade teacher at Fallsmead and inspired me to become an educator. I will always remember her kindness, awesome beaded twist necklaces, and her reading to us “Reflections on a Watermelon Pickle” it was one of the first books I added to my own classroom library! A truly beautiful person and so nice to see her smiling face in your photo again.

    Liked by 1 person

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