Whitefish Bay — Walking through her store, Dawn Slugg carries herself with a certain reluctance, casting lingering glances as if seeing her wares for the last time.
For 32 years now, Slugg has been the proprietor of Ruhama's Yarn and Needlepoint, a staple boutique of downtown Whitefish Bay that caters to area knitters, crocheters and needlepoint hobbyists — she calls them her "stitchers" — with materials spanning an entire spectrum of colors and textures.
Yet, after all the time, Slugg, 70, says it's time to hang up the needles and the thread and the notions, to take up a new chapter of her life in retirement, to travel and enjoy more time with her children and grandchildren on the west coast. While Slugg will continue to run her wholesale yarn importing business, she expects the Ruhama's storefront itself to close for good around June 10.
"I feel like I'm going out on top," Slugg says. "I have loved doing this, and have appreciated the support I've always had from this community. I wouldn't have been here this long if it hadn't been for them, and the staff, and family."
Takes over from 'tough cookie'
Slugg took over the shop in 1981 from Ruhama Weiner, a "tough cookie" whose tenacity belied her short stature. About the time Weiner was gearing up for retirement, Slugg recalls Weiner chasing several potential buyers out of the store. Eventually, Slugg worked up the nerve to ask if she could buy Ruhama's herself.
"If I'm ever going to do it, this is it," Slugg recalls telling herself before asking, and in the crucial moment, "she looks at me and said, 'there isn't anyone else I would want to have it.'"
Since then, Slugg has weathered — nay, thrived in — major changes in the industry, and therefore her store.
About fifteen years ago she made the difficult choice to cut fabric out of the store completely and begin stocking needlepoint supplies instead. At the time, Slugg recalls, the advent of big department stores and their sales were driving down the cost of and interest in home clothes making. Her fabric clientele then were mostly professional women who paid dressmakers to create wardrobes each season; however, their business wasn't enough to justify carrying fabrics in the inventory.
And so Ruhama's Yarn and Fabrics, as it was originally called when Weiner opened the store on Silver Spring in 1963, became Ruhama's Yarn and Needlepoint under Slugg's leadership. Slugg happily reports that her combinations of needlepoint supplies, patterns and classes have allowed the store to flourish since then.
In 2007, the foundation of ravelry.com, an online forum and storefront for knitters, crocheters, and the like to share ideas, projects,and patterns — think of a facebook/pinterest mash-up if the conversation centered on knitting and needlepoint — was the next big change for Slugg and Ruhama's. Suddenly, her clientele were finding their patterns on ravelry instead of in her store, and for the most part the fashions of the online community decided the burning question of hobbyist clothes making: what's hot and what's not?
"At first I was almost resentful, because I have a lot of books and patterns, but it was a sign of the times, so you had to go with it and encourage it," Slugg says. "People come in and they have a favorite yarn, and they can go on ravelry, and there may be 3,000 projects made out of that particular yarn."
Since the rise of ravelry — which now has more than 3 million members — Slugg's store has become an in-person gathering place of those who congregate online to share and discuss their projects. The loss of Ruhama's, Slugg says, means that they will have to travel to Chicago to get their fix if an area proprietor doesn't claim the market she is leaving behind.
For Slugg, it's a bittersweet departure.
"I've said this a million times," she says. "I have loved this store so much. This was my dream come true, something I always wanted to do. How many people get up every morning, and can hardly wait to get there? Not very many."
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