THUNDER BAY -- Rohnda Gibson realized her dream of having her own knitting shop after retiring from H.A.G.I. Transit.
“I’ve been knitting all my life, knitting for hire and teaching knitting,” she says. “When I retired my husband encouraged me to do this, because I can’t just sit still.”
As a knitter, she knew what she was doing; she knows yarn, she knows patterns, she knows how to teach people, and she knew what people were looking for in Thunder Bay. What she didn’t know, however, was running a retail business, and the internet.
“I lived off-grid for 20 years. We didn’t have a phone. But everything’s on the internet now - suppliers and everything. That was my biggest challenge,” says Gibson.
For a year, she took computer literacy lessons every Friday morning. She learned to order things online, print things from her phone, and started a Facebook page for her business - although the social media aspect of running a business still takes a back seat to everything else.
Rohnda’s Knitting Room and Wool Shop opened on May Street in January 2018, and business was good, but not good enough to afford the high rent there.
Soon after, she had the opportunity to purchase a building down the block, and she and her husband extensively renovated it and the store reopened in its current location in January this year. Because of its prime location close to shopping centres, the Gibsons figured it would rent or sell easily later if she decided to retire from the knitting business.
That said, retirement is the last thing on Gibson’s mind right now. “My goal is to serve all the pockets of people here; the ones who like acrylics, wools, high-end, low-end, mid-range, and teach everybody.” While big box stores such as Walmart and Michael’s sell affordable yarn, selection is limited. “I want to have a variety for everyone,” she says. She carries everything from acrylics to wools, cashmere and silk, and prices range from as little as $2 per ball of yarn to $50.
She still knits for hire, and gives individual lessons as well. “I want everyone to knit! It’s just a very good thing,” she says. She makes a lot of her own clothes, from socks to tops. “I see it, I like it, I make it.” There are also open knitting hours, when people can come in, bring their own knitting and sit around a big table to work on their projects.
While Gibson herself can knit just about anything, teaching knitting comes with its own set of challenges. “My goal is not to let you get frustrated. The challenge for me is to learn how that individual learns, and keep it simple,” she explains. Moments that make all the hard work worthwhile is when a knitter “gets it” and everything falls into place. “When it clicks, I do the happy dance, because I know that person can go home and do it on their own. Nothing is impossible. The impossible takes longer, that’s all.”