Downtown’s Needlecraft Emporium Will Shutter Its Doors after 47 Years
One of the town’s most iconic businesses will cease operations at the end of the year. Elaine McArn has operated The Needlecraft Center at Ground Zero for downtown— the corner of Brady’s Alley and the Main Street sidewalk—for the past 47 years. Built originally as a home set back from the sidewalk with rockers resting on a raised front porch, the building provides a perfect perch for watching the strolling crowds pass by.
While some people watch the passing parade, needlecraft aficionados climb the three steps, pass through the front door, and explore the needlecraft wonderland inside.
McArn is an all-but-original Davidsonian. Born in Mooresville, her family built a house in Davidson and moved in before her fourth birthday. She met her future husband, Jerry, in the second grade at Davidson Elementary School. They settled back in town after she finished college in Greensboro and he got out of the Air Force. They were married in 1961.
McArn’s friend, Pat Trexler, opened the Needlecraft Center in 1968 in the back of the Village Store. McArn’s mother was a seamstress, so Elaine grew up with some experience in needles and thread. She started working with Trexler during mornings when her daughter was in nursery school. However, they ran out of space in the Village Store and relocated a couple of storefronts up the sidewalk to the Copeland building for a few years. When they lost that lease, they looked around for other quarters. Pat Trexler didn’t want to suffer through another move, so McArn and new business partner, Peggy McConnell, purchased the shop and moved it back to the Village Store. They received assurances that they could move to their current house in a year. That worked, and that’s where they’ve been since 1971.
The world of knitting has changed in that time. Many people now learn from instructional web sites instead of learning in classes. The product line has expanded wildly. When she launched the business, the only yarns available were basic and simple—wool and acrylic. Now, however, a tremendous variety of fiber is available—yak, llama, cashmere, New Zealand possum, mink, bamboo, and more. She said, “We even went through a time when they made yarn out of milk and crustacean shells, anything you could mix up chemically and extrude.”
But she and her four part-time employees believe natural fibers are the best.
She has thoroughly enjoyed her work. In addition to sales of all manner of tools and knitting needles, she helps customers learn the art and craft of creating scarves, ponchos, and shawls from skeins of thread.
She also conducts classes on site, and used to work for an organization that sent her around the country teaching. She also did demos in department stores for major needlework companies. Add to that all the paperwork and worry that goes with operating a small business, and you can imagine why she’s decided that 47 years is enough!
McArn observed, “A friend told me I would just know when it was time to retire. It’s bittersweet when I think about it, and I don’t want to say I was tired of fighting the battle. But I’ve made the right decision.”
Her husband, Jerry, originally worked for General Time in Davidson, but has now retired from a career as a plant manager. The couple has a son, Mark, and daughter, Kris, and six grandchildren. They live in a house on East Rocky River Road that Jerry’s grandfather bought in 1942.
She’s grateful for how things have turned out. “Thank goodness my life has been steady,” she said. “But I really can’t imagine not being here at the store. I may have to sit on this porch and just rock and knit, and become a Davidson character. We used to have a lot of characters.”
She’s lowered prices to try to sell the large inventory of equipment and yarn, and may end up storing some of it off-site when she finally closes the door after New Year’s. She’s hopeful, though, saying “There’s been a resurgence of interest in yarn, and we’ve been selling a lot. So, we’ll see.
She’s also counting on spending more time at the family’s mountain cabin, maybe travel some more, and spend time outdoors. She would also like to volunteer, maybe for the Land Conservancy or Town Hall. “I don’t worry about spending my time,” she said. “I’ve never been bored in my life. I don’t even know what that means!”
Bill Giduz was the son who followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. He has been involved his entire life with news and photography in schools he attended and jobs he’s held. He believes now that he’s got a few good years left to devote to The News of Davidson.