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Yarn store doesn’t drop a stitch in Franklin opening

Colorful yarn lines the shelves at A2Z Yarn store in Brainerd. The store incorpo1 / 4
Laura DiMartino, Deerwood, handled four needles while knitting a pair of socks f2 / 4
A2Z Yarn store owner Joanie Ledahl incorporates work from other artists at the F3 / 4
A former classroom in the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd is now home to the A24 / 4

Joanie Ledahl had just 15 minutes to make a life-altering decision.

And just weeks later she was still in the sprint mode, getting store space ready, putting inventory together and starting her own business — all without a loan or a business plan on paper.

But she wasn’t starting from scratch. Ledahl had been churning over the details of owning her own yarn shop for years and gained the mentorship help from established shops in the lakes area.

Her plan was to gather the input in order to open a shop in her native North Dakota. Then the oil wells came in and prices soared, turning retail space and housing into expensive propositions. And plans to move back home to start a business slammed against some cold, hard numbers.

But Sue Conway at Among the Pines, one of Ledahl’s mentors, told Ledahl about an opportunity for space in the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd. When Ledahl went to look at the former classroom on the main floor, she found she had competition.

She had 15 minutes to decide.

“This is the time. This is the space. I can do it,” she thought.

So she said “yes.” Without a business loan, but with ideas she’s kept alive for years, she forged ahead. In a matter of weeks she had the store stocked and ready to open.

Although an avid knitter nearly her entire life, Ledahl didn’t want to have just a yarn store. She wanted to promote other artists as well. She wanted to involve a charity in her Sunday hours. And she wanted to create a peaceful setting that people would find welcoming.

She asked other artists at the Franklin Arts Center if they could create items for her store. She bought ceramic yarn bowls from pottery artists. She bought wood-carved shawl pins. She has two people who make cards for her shop. She plans to add knitted socks on consignment for her yarn artists.

What she may not have imagined was the response or how many amazing people would cross her doorstep. As she talked about the store, that is what she said sticks with her.

“It’s pretty amazing what a yarn store can be to someone,” she said.

In the end, Ledahl said she wants to create a sense of home.

Laura DiMartino, Deerwood, handled four needles while knitting a pair of socks for her husband. DiMartino started going to A2Z Yarn in Brainerd about a month ago, liked the selection and the atmosphere.

“It has a nice feel to it,” DiMartino said.

“It’s easy access. It’s cozy,” said Jan Mangledorf. “The people that come in here are just nice people. We all have the same passion. The teachers — she’s got here keep us coming back.”

Mangledorf drives to Brainerd from Cushing every Thursday for the knitting. She said incorporating other artists — like the yarn bowls and shawl pins — also makes it exciting to come back.

Knitters said another attraction comes from instructors Liz Towers and Linda Milton.

“I can’t tell you how lucky I am,” Ledahl said. “That is a huge plus to have those two willing to come in here and teach. They are geniuses when it comes to fiber and knitting.

Two women taking with Towers about different types of fiber appeared fully engrossed, taking notes at a table in the yarn shop.

Ledahl arrived in Brainerd after 18 years living and raising her family in Alaska. By chance, three children — attracted by jobs or spouses looking for an educational opportunity — settled in the lakes area. Ledahl made a home here too seven years ago, but it took awhile to get used to fewer trees and more people.

She recently moved into the artists’ apartments in the Franklin Arts Center and relishes the idea of the winter commutes to work this year. No scraping. No cold car. No bundling up. Just a short walk to work. All indoors.

She said support has come from numerous fronts, including area quilt stores that asked to carry her business cards for their customers and referrals from those stores.

On Thursdays and Sundays, there are typically people who stop in to work on their projects. Ledahl has a fridge and a microwave and encourages them to bring a lunch and spend the day.

“It’s nice to be with people that speak the same language,” she said, noting newcomers are encouraged. “People are welcome to show up. If they want to learn how, just walk in the door.”

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5852.

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