My conversation with a fellow knitter on the bus in TO generated this post. I started the conversation rolling by asking her where she likes to shop in the city. (So many yarn shops, so little time and money!) Her response was "Romni Wools", but here are the points she made:
1. A good shop doesn't have a clubby or clique-y feel to it. Ever felt like an outsider at a "knit night" or while wandering around a shop where a group of shop regulars is socializing (and ignoring other customers)? In a good shop, everyone is welcomed warmly, perhaps offered a cup of tea, and engaged in conversation. The staff make you feel that they are genuinely interested in you and what you're doing.
2. A good shop carries lines of yarn in their entirety. Unfortunately, more shops than I would like to mention carry just three or four colours of a type of yarn, and they're usually based on the owner's idiosyncratic tastes. Don't care for 3 shades of orange? Go somewhere else!
3. Good sales people never lie or mislead. You want a double knitting weight of cotton? "Here," says the young woman behind the counter, "this skein is labelled worsted weight, but it'll be just fine for your project." Or, " this ball is a different dye lot, but you'd never be able to tell." This behaviour is even worse when the misleading occurs over the telephone, resulting in a wasted trip to the shop.
4. Great yarn shops carry classic, reasonably priced yarns in sweater quantities. I don't know if it is the trend toward making socks and shawls, but more and more shops seem to specialize in $28 skeins of hand-dyed precious fibre and fewer and fewer carry complete lines of "workhorse" yarns. If you knit a lot of sweaters, there's no way you can feed your habit with super-expensive fibre, not to mention the fact that classic yarns just wear better over time. My personal limit is around $100 for a good sweater, and I rarely come close to spending that.
5. This last point is my own addition. I prefer yarn shops run by owners who are interested in knitting design and designers. You'd be surprised at the number of owners who have absolutely no interest in anything beyond selling pattern books from the big distributors and the yarn specified in those patterns. If a customer shows up with a pattern off the internet, woe betide them. Smart shop owners understand that there's more money to be made from selling yarn than patterns. They may even provide access to a computer to check on yarn requirements or view other knitters' projects on Ravelry. A really smart shop owner supports local designers, with sweater samples labelled with suggested yarns from the shop. Hey owners, we're a great resource!