Wabi Sabi looking to the future after turbulent few years

The inside of Wabi Sabi.
Wabi Sabi sells different kinds of yarn and hosts knitting classes. Photo by Gabrielle Huston.

By Gabrielle Huston

You can expect to see Wabi Sabi abuzz with activity in the new year.

The Wellington West independent yarn store, like so many local businesses, fought hard to stay afloat as Canada battled an unprecedented pandemic. Now that she can see the light at the end of the tunnel, owner Judy Enright-Smith is preparing for some exciting changes in 2024.

When Enright-Smith bought Wabi Sabi about a year and a half before the COVID lockdowns hit Canada, it had already been open for a decade. 

“When I first bought the store,” she remembered, “this woman came in and she said, ‘Thank you for buying the store.’ And I was really surprised. She said, ‘Thank you for keeping it open. It’s part of the community and it’s good to know that it’s still going to be here.’ That’s when it hit me, how important community stores are to certain communities.”

Running a business was different – and much less solitary – than the office work she’d been doing for the government until then. She has been careful to buy from local independent yarn dyers, like Alley Cat Yarns in Kanata. 

“I want [Wabi Sabi] to be the furthest thing from a big box store,” Enright-Smith said. “I want it to have a lot of selection and I want it to be a lovely yarn store, but a lovely local yarn store. I don’t want you coming in and thinking that you’re shopping at Michael’s or Walmart or someplace like that.”

Three people stand together and pose for a photo. Yarn is on display behind them.
From left to right: Louise Manship, Judy Enright-Smith and Samara Ambrosini. Photo by Gabrielle Huston.

Of course, that all changes when you’re faced with a global pandemic and nationwide lockdown. Suddenly, all of her attention had to be redirected to online sales.

“The first month [of lockdown], we did really well,” Enright-Smith said. “I had survivor’s guilt, we did so well. I felt really badly that, ‘oh my God, restaurants, stores are closing down, and we had another tremendous month.’ After that, things did go south.”

She applied for business loans to support Wabi Sabi as they worked out a process for online orders. A social media manager, Emily Monks-Leeson, was hired to promote the store on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. 

“Yarn has no expiration date,” Enright-Smith said. “All our inventory stayed here. I really did feel for all these people who had inventory that was perishable and that could expire, or people who didn’t have websites. Our website saved us.”

Now that life is returning to a semblance of normality, the team at Wabi Sabi have a moment to catch their breath. Sales have bounced back, and Enright-Smith feels that they’ve almost recovered financially.

“Unfortunately, I have to pay the CEBA loan back by January 18, and I’m one of those 60 percent of small businesses that haven’t paid it back yet,” Enright-Smith said. “I feel that Trudeau should extend the payback deadline by at least another year. Ideally I would like it to be Dec. 31 in 2024 or 2025. Only 40 per cent of small businesses that received the CEBA loan have managed to repay it.”

Many colours of yarn inside Wabi Sabi
Wabi Sabi was hopeful the federal government would have given an extension to CEBA loans. Photo by Charlie Senack.

A look ahead to 2024

There will be more classes and groups to attend in 2024. Enright-Smith has noted a lot of renewed interest in knitting and crochet since the pandemic. Due to high demand, they even hosted some classes online during the lockdown.

“People wanted classes. We weren’t going to give them in-store, so we gave classes online. People want to talk and say ‘Oh, look what I’m making!’ It’s not the same doing it online,” she said. “It’s really nice to be in the same room with people because it’s a social thing.”

Wabi Sabi offers a variety of yarn-craft classes and groups, from introductory courses to groups designed to help you fix mistakes you don’t understand. In 2024, a new teacher will be able to teach you how to hand weave. 

These classes are on a smaller scale than they were pre-pandemic, but that’s not due to lack of interest. Most of them sell out, and they’re slowly increasing the frequency. One beloved group event is the Craft Night, which used to happen every Thursday. Post-lockdown, they’ve been held once a month. In 2024, it will be twice a month. 

Enright-Smith’s other big venture for 2024 will make all these classes and groups feel at home. She plans to decorate one of her backrooms, transforming it into a “dedicated, cozy, ‘come back here and knit’ space.” 

Right now, the backroom is designed to hold overstock. However, with the front of the store expanded this past July and some creative shuffling, she thinks she can transform it into a welcoming space to craft in. And if she has some spare time, she’d really like to replace the corkboard floors.

“I said I was going to be in it for five years,” Enright-Smith reflected. “It’s almost six years now, and I have no plans, no end date in sight. None. In fact, I want new floors.”

The outside of Wabi Sabi on a dull day. They have an orange sign.
Wabi Sabi is located at 1078 Wellington St. W. Photo by Charlie Senack.

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