Thursday, February 01, 2007

Gone But Not Forgotten - My Favorite LYS

When I was a kid, there were two places to buy yarn in my neighborhood. Either way you had to walk from Elmhurst to Jackson Heights (maybe fifteen minutes from door to door)(in the summer we'd walk through the subway station because it was cooler--pop down at the Chase Manhattan entrance then pop up again at the corner of Broadway and Layton Street where my Aunt Dede lived.)

Anyway, if you were a knitter or crocheter and you didn't want to take the subway into Manhattan, your choices were limited to Woolworth's on 82nd Street or a teeny tiny hole-in-the-wall at the corner of 82nd and Roosevelt Avenue called Ackerman's. Now I was a kid and that meant I was basically broke for the first fourteen years of my life so Woolworth's was pretty much where I did my yarn crawls. But every now and then my mother would start a project that required a trip to Ackerman's, AKA as close to yarn nirvana as you could get in that time and place.

Ackerman's was about as big as my downstairs bathroom here in central NJ. Maybe twenty by twenty feet. Windowless. Pretty much airless. Situated right under the IRT or "el" as we called it. (Elevated part of the subway.) It was noisy, smelly, cramped, and pretty much paradise. The walls were lined with shelves and the shelves were filled with cardboard boxes labeled Columbia-Minerva, Spinnerin, Red Heart, Pinguoin, and other names I've long forgotten. The boxes were, of course, covered in a fine layer of dust. They sold metal needles, metal stitch holders, metal cable needles, cloth tape measures, pattern booklets, and attitude. (Hey, this is New York City we're talkin' about.) Customers were viewed as screaming three year olds on a crowded plane in mid-flight over the Atlantic.

I loved the place.

The idea of being able to buy all the yarn you'd need for a project AT THE SAME TIME seemed like an impossible dream. (Which probably explained the number of UFOs in my mother's workbasket at any one time.) I assumed rich people could afford to buy all the yarn they needed for a sweater in one wild, free-spending visit to their local LYS but even that sounded like I was pushing the fiber envelope. (Besides, did wealthy women knit in 1960 or thereabouts? It sounds a little too loving-hands-at-home for the way I remember that time and place.)

Ackerman's smelled of soot, train tracks, hot dogs from the bus station that backed up to the shop. The lighting sucked. The counter was barely visible, covered by invoices, a big old-fashioned cash register, a cold cup of coffee and half a Danish from across the street. You couldn't hear yourself think when the el roared by overhead. But when you actually managed to get the sales person to open one of those dust-covered cardboard boxes, I'm here to tell you diamonds and rubies and emeralds and fairy dust and magic spilled out all over the counter.

When I started high school, we had a long 90 minute commute to Mater Christi in Astoria. Three buses, lots of waiting. Guess where we waited for the second of those three buses? Yep. Right across 82nd Street from Ackerman's. One day near the end of senior year I popped in and plopped down a big chunk of earnings from my part-time job at Macy's Queens and bought up a pile of Red Heart Wool (it was 100% wool in 1967) to make my boyfriend (soon to be husband) a Fair Isle sweater. Yale Blue. Cadet Blue. Cream. And a deep blue whose name escapes me. I jumped into it with both feet (with the happy ignorant confidence you only have at 16) and whizzed right along on it. I remember finishing the front and half of the back, and then -- who knows? Life happened, I guess. He went into the Air Force and what used to be knitting time became letter writing time and going to work time and getting ready to be married time.

I married the boyfriend. I don't know what happened to that sweater in progress. Ackerman's closed its doors sometime in the 1970s. I'm not sure anyone else on the planet even remembers it.

What can I say? It will always be my favorite LYS.


Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Marvelous description! I'm transported. Are you by any chance a writer? ;-)

5:41 PM  
Blogger dobarah said...

You have brought back glowing memories of my LYS while you were so vividly describing your LYS. The Spinning Wheel in Missoula, MT was run by a wonderful white haired gentleman who helped the local college freshmen with their newly learned knitting skills. I'm still knitting some of that vintage stash!

9:38 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

What a lovely tribute to your LYS. As someone who's only been knitting for seven years, I've had the fortune of all of these new fancy-schmancy knitting shops. Thank you for taking us on your trip down memory lane!

10:21 PM  

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