A Yarn + Fabric Shop with a Community Soul

Five years ago this month, Jennifer, Pat, and I were getting ready to open the doors on a new business called JP Knit & Stitch. It had been over a year since we had decided to embark on this journey together. We signed the lease on 461 Centre Street in September of 2010.  We had been working on the business plan for months already. Once we found the location, (and the day that we saw it, on a very dark and rainy day, we knew instantly that this was the space for us), it got real very quickly! The buildout of the shop took almost three months. It was a crash course in how to run a small business, the crafty version. We knew nothing. I was a novice knitter at that point – Jennifer taught me to knit over the course of a ski week in New Hampshire the winter of 2010 where we took the kids over February school break. Every day Jennifer and I sat in the lodge after putting the kids in ski lessons for the day and we worked on our business plan for what would become JP Knit & Stitch and in between, Jennifer taught me how to knit.

We were friends first (through our same age oldest sons) who became business partners. None of us had any experience in retail. Jennifer had obtained her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health and was in the process of getting her Masters in Social Work from Simmons and I was home with my third child after having taken a leave of absence from my job as a college level English Literature textbook editor. Pat, Jennifer’s mother, was retired and had never worked in a retail setting. Pat and Jennifer had the dream to open a mother and daughter yarn shop after Jennifer was first diagnosed and completed treatment for breast cancer. They were both avid knitters and Jennifer dreamed about opening a yarn shop in the community – Jamaica Plain – that she so loved and where she and her husband Bryan had chosen to raise their family. She was so excited about sharing her love for knitting with the world. I became friends with Jennifer through a mutual friend (shout out to Carol Mallory!) while our oldest sons were in the local Boston public pre-K.

During one of our Friday afternoon playgroups a few years later (by this point I had three kids and Jen had two, all eight and under), Jennifer shared her vision of opening a yarn shop with her mother. I told Jennifer that she should have fabric in this yarn shop and that I should partner with them. She immediately liked the idea and set about incorporating fabric into the business plan moving forward. I was going to run a little fabric corner in a big mother daughter yarn shop – fun! I had always loved fabrics and textiles and by that point I was collecting vintage fabrics and making baby quilts for friends using recycled fabric from thrift store clothes. The internet was still in it’s earlier phase (yes, really!) and it was still very hard to source beautiful, contemporary fabrics locally. I was not even a very good sewer! But I did love to sew and loved the utility of it all and making beautiful, useful things. I was not sure that I wanted to go back to my old job as an editor. I took the leap and joined Jennifer and Pat and we jumped into planning our new business.

We were excited and thrilled about this new (ad)venture and learning a lot every day. Bryan, Jen’s husband, helped with some of the technical and business aspects of setting up the business and we quickly fell into a comfortable business relationship with natural areas of interest: Pat and Jen dealt with all things yarn and knitting related; I made all the decisions relating to fabrics and sewing and took on the lead role in marketing, graphic design, and social media; Jen managed the books and bank account and all the finances. Pat and Jen collaborated on everything – they had a close and truly inspiring mother daughter relationship. Jen was our fearless leader and we hit the ground running. We spent the fall of 2010 overseeing the buildout of the shop. The space as we rented it was big, beat up, and empty. The only thing we kept from the previous tenant was the beautiful hard tile floor. [See an album of the buildout of the shop on our Facebook page HERE.] While the build out was happening we were buying inventory, interviewing staff and teachers, setting up our POS system, buying shop furniture and fixtures, and planning for our grand opening – scheduled for sometime in December. I was keeping a blog leading up to opening day and we had a lot of fun planning the future of the business together. All the while Jen and I were kept busy with our kids, our school commitments, and families. It was a busy and exciting time for us. By December 2010 the buildout was complete and we brought up all the inventory we had been buying and storing in our enormous basement. We now had to input into our POS system and tag hundreds and hundreds of items. It was a big task and newbies that we were, we had no idea how hard it would be and how long it would take. We still thought we could have our grand opening in December.

We found out that Jennifer’s breast cancer came back on December 20th, 2010. It was a shock to us all. We left for Christmas with our families not knowing whether we would open the shop at all or call it quits.

We came back together in January with a renewed commitment to opening the shop and seeing Jennifer’s dream realized. January and February saw a coming together of the community as we spent each day with a rotating number of friends, relatives, and many of their children helping us enter, tag, and put out hundreds of skeins of yarn along with fabric, patterns, books, notions and so much more. Jen started an aggressive treatment regime. Jennifer had turned 40 in January.

We opened our doors on March 4th, 2011. There was a line out the door on our opening day and it was a joyful time with so many friends, family, and members of the community coming out to support us.

We had a thriving business almost from the start. Turns out Jen was right in her belief that a crafting business like ours could succeed in Jamaica Plain. We had knitters who hadn’t knit in years come to us and thank us for opening and inspiring them to take up their knitting needles again. Over the past five years we have taught thousands of people of all backgrounds, genders, and ages how to knit, sew, quilt, embroider, weave, screen print, and so much more. We quickly became an integral part of the community that Jen so loved. There is a JP Knit & Stitch sponsored little league baseball team (that Jen’s boys played on) and there is not a local Boston public school fundraiser that we do not support in Jen’s honor.

Jen died on August 20th 2011 after a heroic battle with cancer leaving her two wonderful boys, Russell and Zachary, her husband Bryan, her beloved mother Pat, and her brother Cameron and his family along with many other family and friends. Jennifer lived to see her JP Knit & Stitch dream realized and Pat and I have carried on in the shop always with the feeling that Jen is right there with us. With the help of a core group of staff and teachers, some who have been with us since the beginning, including Eloise Narrigan, Taylor McVay, and Diane Ivey, we were able to take on the challenge of running the shop on our own.  We would not be able to do what we do without our wonderful and committed staff and teacher community. We are truly a yarn + fabric shop with a community soul. I have become a pretty good knitter over the last five years, I’ve also learned how to manage the ins and outs and ups and downs of a community yarn and fabric shop — and am still learning everyday. I know Jennifer would be so happy and proud that we have made it to our five year anniversary. We were able to toast each other on our one year anniversary and as we raise a glass for five years, this one’s for you, Jen. xo genevieve

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10 Comments
  • Carol Mallory
    Posted at 21:19h, 25 March

    Beautifully written Genevieve. I miss Jen daily, but her spirit lives on in the store that the three of you created together. All you’ve done with it since the early days is a real tribute to our dear, and dearly missed, friend. xoxo

  • Evie
    Posted at 21:41h, 25 March

    What a beautiful tribute — and what a beautiful living legacy your wonderful JP Knit and Stitch has turned out to be!

  • Carol Mallory
    Posted at 21:54h, 25 March

    Beautiful Genevieve. I miss Jen daily, but her spirit lives on in this wonderful store you, she and G created together. All you’ve done with the store since those early days is a real tribute to our dear, and dearly missed, friend. xoxo – carol

  • Kathy
    Posted at 08:07h, 26 March

    So sweet to hear about Jen and your beginnings. I love shopping at your shop I live in Roslindale and it is so convenient and your staff is always so welcoming and friendly!

  • Eleanor
    Posted at 14:59h, 26 March

    Such a moving story. Here’s to another 25+ years!

  • Catht Frank
    Posted at 09:29h, 29 March

    This one’s for all three of you, Pat, Genevieve, and Jennifer. For those of us who helped before the store was open and helped with and continue to help keep the yarn bomb functional, we take great pride of your accomplishment. The aging yarn bomb helpers!

  • Amanda Chaloupka
    Posted at 15:53h, 31 March

    This is so beautiful, Genevieve, and I’m glad to have been one of the original teachers, too. I’m grateful I had that time to get to know Jen and Pat from the very start. I remember sorting yarn at the shop before it opened, and my interview to teach crochet was actually teaching Pat (with Jen there!) at Pat’s home one evening! Even though it’s harder to find time to be at the shop since I had a child, I love that whenever I walk in I know someone is happy to see me. And my daughter feels like she is a member of the shop, too! I remember having a particularly difficult day last year–I’d had surgery on my forehead and a disappointing interaction with old friends–and Genevieve could see the frustration on my face. The first thing you said after I unloaded was, “Well, you’re home now,” and it was true and meant the world to me. Thank you so much for establishing the shop and keeping it going these years. I’m sure you’ve touched more people than you know. I know I have learned so much and met so many wonderful people through the classes I’ve taught and taken.

    With sincere thanks and congratulations,
    Amanda

  • Cate
    Posted at 19:27h, 16 April

    Congrats on your 5 years and the lovely memorial to Jen. My sister just pasted from b.cancer a few weeks ago. This is just an impressive blog entry to keep living and making and being inspired by ones that made a difference to us. Currently working on my vitamin d cardigan with the pistachio colored yarn I purchased at your store. Keeping my hands busy with creating is what I know my sister would love me doing. Best to you all, Cate.

  • Carolyn
    Posted at 05:52h, 06 May

    This is an absolutely stunning post. I’ve admired your shop for awhile, though I don’t get there often. Now that I know the backstory, I’ll try to get there more. Congratulations to you on reaching this major milestone, giving such a wonderful gift to your community, and carrying on a friend’s dream.

  • Annie
    Posted at 11:45h, 08 July

    Just found this post and had to write. I met Jen in a mom and baby group when our oldest children were born. Though we only kept in touch sporadically when our children grew older, I always enjoyed talking with her. I remember the excitement of you, Jen, and Pat when you held a focus group evening at Pat’s home while planning the shop. Jen was truly a shining light in this world. It seems so wrong that she is no longer here. What an incredible mother and friend she was. The shop is wonderful way to honor her creativity and love of life.