Ale Cruz and Trina Kurek on a recent Wednesday. Lucy Gellman Photos.
The beige shelves beckon, stacked to the brim with vibrant yarns. Many skeins of multicolored string decorate the corners of the shelves, hot pinks and sharp oranges peeking out from within the piles. The sizes of the material vary greatly: larger bundles wait in a far corner of the store, and smaller ones are on the parallel wall.
Established almost 14 years ago, Knit New Haven is a cozy yarn store and knitting business in downtown New Haven at 26 Whitney Ave. Nestled between a French crêperie and a FedEx office, its doors are open to anyone looking to purchase materials or engage themselves in the crafts of knitting, sewing, crocheting, and much, much more.
Knit New Haven is open weekdays from 11 to 6 p.m. (and 5 p.m. on Saturdays) and offers a rotating slate of seasonal classes. Every Tuesday evening, there is a Knit Night from 6 to 8 p.m., along with classes and private lessons provided throughout the week.
“I love the store, and I love the community,” said Co-Founder and Owner Linda Reis in a phone call Wednesday afternoon. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Reis has designed the shop to be a warm, creative community brought together by a love of artistry and specifically knit and crochet. Growing up in Manhattan, her greatest dream was to run a knitting business. At seven, she started knitting, encouraged by both of her grandmothers. Once she learned how, she couldn’t stop.
Twenty-five years ago, the opportunity to own a store presented itself once she moved to New Haven as a young adult. When two of her friends asked if she wanted to establish a shop, she was hooked right away and immediately agreed with the idea. While Knit New Haven has always been in the Whitney Avenue space, she has been the sole proprietor for only the last five years.
Despite a pandemic that strained small businesses across the country, the store is still thriving. Reis said she still loves working there, and that owning the shop is very much a dream fulfilled.
On a recent Wednesday, a harsh outdoor breeze was no match for the serene scene inside the store. Staffer Trina Kurek, who has been at the shop for roughly two years, bustled around the space, fielding questions every so often as sunlight streamed in through the windows.
Sweaters, gloves, and other bright clothing items decorated every corner of the shop. A central table is littered with beaded necklaces and bracelets crafted by employees. Towards the far corner of the store, the checkout corner waited for customers, piled high with different knitting accouterments. A shelf adorned with more decorative yarn and other materials sat quietly beneath it.
Kurek said she’s thrilled to be working in the shop. At 17, she managed to teach herself how to knit after coming across a sweater that caught her attention. When she asked her mother to purchase the item, her mother suggested she learn how to make it instead. That was the beginning of her journey.
“She told me ‘No, but I can show you how to sew it,’” Kurek recalled.
A simple sweater sparked the start of a lifelong love for knitting that Kurek still carries with her to this day. Now, just as her mother helped her, she helps other knitters, crochet artists and sewists find their passion for the craft.
In 2021, Kurek started staffing the shop a few days a week after Reis asked if she was interested in working there. The Covid-19 pandemic was still keeping people away from in-person interaction, and Kurek wanted to take on an opportunity that would allow her to get out of the house and engage with people once again.
Regaining her working footing was “an experience,” she said. She said that being offered this job without asking for it was a real confidence-booster for her, and she loves to be able to gift people with a similar trust in their abilities.
When she was still new to the shop, Kurek was curious of what was to come. She soon discovered a love for tending to customers, finding that her favorite part of her job is empowering them to find a new skill, or contribute to one that is already being built up.
“If I weren’t here, I’d be knitting right now,” she said with a smile.
Ale Cruz is the Arts Paper's 2023 New Haven Academy intern. The New Haven Academy internship is a program for NHA juniors that pairs them with a professional in a field that is interesting to them. From now through June 1, look out for their byline!