Lou Andersen began telling regular customers earlier this year that she was ready to retire and close her knitting store, Lofty Lou’s in Placerville, but 25 of the regulars couldn’t imagine life without the place.
The store’s knitting instructor, 87-year-old Clara Redwine, emailed her students to recruit partners to buy it. They made Andersen an offer that kept her in the fold as a partner, and she accepted. Lofty Lou’s now leases the space from Andersen.
“I got back from vacation in late August,” said Redwine, whom some partners affectionately call their chief lamb herder. “I’d had the summer off, and nothing had been done about forming a group to buy Lofty Lou’s, and Lofty Lou’s was going to close. I couldn’t stand the thought.”
It was a cool, rainy day when Redwine, Andersen, general manager April Scott and media relations partner Michelle Beese fielded questions about the change of ownership, and Redwine was prepared for the weather in a blue boat-necked sweater made of alpaca and wool fiber. Four years ago, she had designed it, with cables up the sleeves, along the neckline and across the waist, then knitted it. It looked sales-floor new.
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“Most sweaters are knitted top to bottom,” Scott said, ‘but this one, I can tell she knitted it from one side to the other because of the flow of cables.”
As Redwine nodded, Beese remarked, “She brings things in here that she made 50 years ago. And she used good, quality yarn, and they are beautiful.”
In addition to Redwine, Scott and other partners also teach such topics as crocheting, knitting and spinning. They have been running the shop since the beginning of November, but the partnership does not officially take over until Jan. 1.
Typically, two people mind the store, though Andersen used to be the sole employee. Since their ranks have swelled, they open the shop seven days a week. Andersen was open only three days. Still, the new partners wonder how she did that much.
“We really understand why Lou is tired,” Beese said. “I thought I really knew this yarn shop, but it’s a lot different when you’re making sales. I know where I should go for yarns that I buy for my projects, but there’s a whole lot more yarn in this store that I have to get to know.”
Beese, Scott, Redwine and all the partners are thrilled that Andersen decided to join them. She has been running Lofty Lou’s since February 1992. While it’s on the ground floor of a quaint wood-frame building at 585 Main St., it started out in the loft of a building two blocks west. Hence its name, Andersen said.
“I was getting tired, to be honest with you,” Andersen said, explaining her reasons for a planned closure. “I’m 66, and everybody else was retiring. My sister retired and she’s much younger than I am, and I thought, ‘Whoa, what’s wrong with this picture? She’s 57.’”
Andersen didn’t quite succeed at retirement, and she’s not the only one. Scott recently retired from Bank of America, where she was an information systems manager. Redwine has tried to retire a couple of times in the past.
During a 30-year career at AT&T, Redwine started as an operator, ended her career as a third-level manager, and retired in 1977. Then she opened a ceramic shop in the Monterey Bay area. She retired from that after 12 years. She bought property in Pollock Pines with her daughter seven years ago, when she wandered into Lofty Lou’s to match some yarn and ended up getting hired as an instructor.
The partners have worked in fields as varied as finance, engineering and computer science. Because they have so many tech-savvy people in their group, the women have acquired a new point-of-sale system and are entering the inventory.
Andersen said she’s thrilled with the new energy and expertise that her partners are bringing to the business, and she’s enjoyed the fact that they are always looking for ways to make the displays look fresh. Combined, Redwine said, the group has 825 years of experience in the fiber arts.
“We love the yarn, and we love the shop and we just love the idea of having it,” Scott said. “There’s nothing like being able to walk into a yarn shop and see the yarn in different lighting and decide what you want to do with the yarn, lust after the yarn.”
But one can’t help but wonder: Have all of Lofty Lou’s best customers become owners?
Actually, the four partners said, no. Many tourists come to the shop, some of them on their way to or from Lake Tahoe, some tourists from around the world who are visiting Gold Country and some knitters who plan trips around visiting yarn shops. There are also many locals who knit, they say.
The shop carries a variety of fibers – from cotton to alpaca to wool to the more exotic qiviuk, an ultra-soft, ultra-warm fiber from the underbelly of a musk ox. They also have needles, crochet hooks, patterns, felted bags and more.
Customers won’t find any clothing for sale, though, Scott said. Any apparel hanging in the shop is there to show off the yarn.
Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.