Two customers walked through the door of the storefront on Morse Avenue, within walking distance of the Red Line El stop of the same name, and smiled at the owner. Closing time was still half an hour away.
“What’s going on?” Rico Blanco, owner of Suiggly’s Yarn Shop and Studio, greeted the two patrons as they were still walking down the stairs into the tiny retail space. While informal greetings such as this are typically reserved for close friends, Blanco feels an instant connection with his customers, and the quip can be used on anyone whose face he recognizes, even if it is only their second time in the store.
Squiggly’s is the newest addition to Rogers Park’s crafty and cultural footprint, with Blanco considering himself an artist before a retailer. Customers are responding in kind to his non-commercial approach to retail; in his first seven weeks in business, Blanco has already had over thirty private-lesson knitters and crocheters walk through his doors. All new students entered with fumbling hands, and exited one hour later (for only 20 dollars per lesson) as a skilled enough knitter or crocheter to make their own dishcloth, scarf, or any other basic item with the framework set for a lifetime of crafty curiosity.
Although the space is small, the place is packed with all supplies needed for a healthy habit of yarncraft, from different yarns to needles and notions, plenty of books, and commissioned projects for those who would prefer someone else to make an item by hand. Brands like Cascade and Patons line the shelves, in addition to harder-to-find brands, with Blanco still receiving feedback to ensure his customers see what they would like.
The store is set up more like a studio and less like a retail outlet, and Blanco would not have it any other way. “I needed a space as a studio, but I really just want to share it with others,” says Blanco. Open Knit times at other yarn shops are on designated days and times, but Blanco encourages his customers to come in any time convenient for them to sit and knit during store hours.
Blanco himself is as unique as his store. Making a personal connection with his customers is not just a way for him to get to know his clientele; he is also willing to share his life, in addition to his artistry, with the neighborhood. Growing up near Taylor and Loomis Streets on the near west side, Blanco is a lifelong crocheter and knitter who needed to find a way to balance his identity with corporate America with his love of arts and crafts. Squiggly’s customers and followers can read his personal insights and feelings on his blog, or they can just come into the store and start a topic of conversation while whipping out their yarn and needles. Blanco is also bound to have a crochet hook in his hand if he is not otherwise helping someone with their own hooks and needles.
Squiggly’s is as yet unconfirmed for participation in the Chicago Yarn Crawl, held during the first week in August in the Chicago area every year. However, the store is located within blocks of the Clark Street bus, the Red Line, and has plenty of street parking just outside its front door for members of the community who like to commute using any means of transportation. The store is also situated near plenty of restaurants, shops, and coffee shops to make a trek for an out-of-towner worthwhile for more than just yarn. The class list is continuously being updated, and private lessons can be scheduled any time the store is open.
Rico Blanco, the owner of Squiggly’s Yarn Shop and Studio in Rogers Park, brings elements of surprise to his store. He is a father of two, athlete, and business man in addition to being an artist with yarn. His presence makes customers feel as welcome as the wares he carries, and Blanco himself is the first to tell you he appreciates your business. More importantly, he is the first to tell you he appreciates that he and his customers have something in common: the love of creativity.
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