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Oldest yarn shop in U.S. creates welcoming community

Aug 12, 2023

Located on Center Street in downtown Provo sits Heindselman’s Knit and Gift — the oldest yarn shop in the U.S.

Heindselman’s sells a wide variety of yarn, supplies for spinning, weaving, lace-making, gifts and more. The store also offers classes in knitting, crocheting and many other activities.

“This is a very compelling place,” Bobbi Pendell, employee and soon-to-be owner at Heindselman’s, said. “Sitting here at this table and learning to knit pretty much changed the course of my life.”

Heindselman’s history

Pendell shared that the history of the shop and the community it has created is what makes it unique and contributes to its longevity.

According to Pendell, in 1904, Doc Heindselman was traveling from Illinois to Oregon to start an optometry and watchmaking practice. He got off the train in Provo to look around and was so impressed that he called for his bags and never got back on the train. He started his practice on the corner of Freedom Boulevard and Center Street in Provo.

Heindselman’s wife, Dee, thought Provo needed a yarn store, so she asked her husband for $50 and started selling yarn at their practice. The optometry portion of the store retired with Doc Heindselman. His son-in-law learned watchmaking and continued the business at the store until he retired in the 1980s.

Heindselman’s has worn many hats over the years — at one point it rented out band instruments for children in the area, while also serving as a bridal registry location, carrying fine China and jewelry. However, yarn has been the only constant since the store’s opening.

“I came to work here in the 90s and this is where I learned to knit,” Pendell said. “I moved to Alaska and there was no yarn shop there, and I started a yarn manufacture business with hand-painted yarns which grew and grew.”

Pendell returned to Provo six years ago to teach a workshop at Heindselman’s. Ted, the grandson of Doc and Dee Heindselman, offered the store to Pendell to take over. She gladly accepted the offer.

“Now we’re dovetailing my wholesale yarn manufacture business with this retail business and they’re going to go forward as sister companies,” Pendell said.

This shift in store ownership will occur this summer, according to Pendell.

The “magic table”

Hava Winterton began working at Heindselman’s when she was in high school. She left to attend college and start her family, and returned to the store in 2019.

Winterton explained that what makes Heindselman’s so special is its unique sense of community.

“Knitting and crocheting, these are solitary hobbies,” she said. “So, providing a place for people to come and have that community and do it in a group instead of sitting alone at home, I think that’s probably the most important thing we provide.”

Sitting in the middle of the store is a wooden table, full of ongoing projects and surrounded by chairs. This table, according to Winterton, is where they solve the world’s problems.

“Most craft stores, you can’t go in and get a lot of help,” Winterton said. “You can go in and you ask a question and they’ll show you the supplies and then they send you on your way. There isn’t a place to create.”

Emily Hunton is another employee at Heindselman’s. She grew up knitting and started working at the store in April of 2022. She shared that the store provided her with a social atmosphere when she moved to Provo.

“My friends and roommates were all off doing fun plans — one roommate had a boyfriend, the other was always at school or work,” Hunton said. “And so the days I wasn’t working, I was like, you know what, I’m bored, I’m going to come down here. Especially on holidays when I didn’t have any classes or work. And then I eventually started working here.”

Hunton is in charge of the store’s Knit Flicks, which is a recurring event every Wednesday night where anyone is invited to come work on their current projects while watching a movie with the group.

Winterton shared that many people come in with problems with their current knitting or crocheting project, but oftentimes people are dealing with more than just a mistake in their scarf pattern. She said they work together to find solutions and send them on their way, feeling happier, less stressed and less alone.

“It’s the magic table,” Winterton said when asked about her favorite part of working at Heindselman’s. “It’s the community.”

The benefits of yarn work

“I really think there is a part of us that needs to create,” Pendell said. “I think that need to make things is really unaddressed now with our lifestyle.”

Even though the U.S. has moved past the manufacturing era when many people were making physical things for a living, these “dying arts” are now things people do for fun instead of work, according to Pendell.

Winterton echoed Pendell’s thoughts.

“These arts are so important,” Winterton said. “It was a necessity for a long time and now, no one needs to knit socks anymore. So it’s moved over to more because we like it.”

Today, mindfulness and taking care of mental health has become a big incentive for people who take up these arts, according to Winterton.

“Knitting and crocheting, spinning and weaving, they’re all very meditative and that creative outlet is really important and it feeds your soul,” she said.

All employees at Heindselman’s expressed their love for helping every customer that comes into the store.

When asked what her favorite part of working at the store is, Hunton mentioned “getting to see other people’s projects and the things that they’re working on and helping them, just being able to help people express their creativity.”

“I love everything fiber and I love when someone hands me their project and it’s got this big mistake,” Winterton said. “It’s like a puzzle to me.”

Pendell, Winterton and Hunton all encouraged anyone who is interested in starting to knit or crochet to visit the store and ask for help getting started. Everyone is welcome, regardless of age or previous experience.

The shop is open Monday and Tuesday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and is closed on Sundays.

Heindselman’s historyThe “magic table”The benefits of yarn work