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A splash of color, warmth
Barracks Row shop brings brightness to a drab winter
(Published January 23, 2006)

Special to The Common Denominator

Fighting back against the gray skies and biting January temperatures, Stitch DC stands as a haven of warmth and brightness atop Capitol Hill. Customers entering the store are quickly enveloped by a pastiche of vibrantly colored yarns of varying shades and textures. The presentation is only enhanced by the friendly smile and distinct laugh of owner Marie Connolly.

"I try to make everyone feel welcome. I consider everyone who walks into the store a guest," Connolly says of her business philosophy.

The success of her approach is obvious as Stitch DC buzzes with activity, with seasoned as well as novice customers eagerly coming to attend the knitting and crocheting classes.

An interesting mix of store, classroom and social venue, Stitch DC provides yarns from all over the world, classes for all skill levels and an opportunity to meet new people. The bleak winter sky and chilly air may tempt Washingtonians to hide indoors until the first sight of the cherry blossoms, but discovering Stitch DC counters such inclinations. Customers can come to create and leave with something bright and personalized to keep them warm all winter long.

"I offer beginners classes every night of the week and still can't keep up with the demand," Connolly laments of her main challenge in running the business.

In fact, Stitch DC has battled the "problem" of meeting customer demand since its inception.

"We really hit the ground running," Connolly recalls of the store's June 2004 opening.

Despite her attempts to keep the Saturday evening grand opening low-profile, word got out and she found the information posted on the Internet.

"It was a very scary night – I had never done a credit card transaction and the first attempt took 20 minutes," Connolly recalls, laughing. "Thank goodness the customer was very patient."

While keeping her products in stock continues to be a challenge for Connolly, she says her fears that the store would fail are a distant memory.

Connolly first had the idea of opening a knitting store while shopping for her then 3-year-old daughter, Nora.

"I was in The Gap, looking at sweaters, and I thought, ‘I can do this,'" Connolly remembers of that February day.

When she returned home and voiced this realization to her husband, he encouraged her to start her own knitting shop.

"Starting a business is like throwing a birthday party everyday. You hope that what you create will attract others," Connolly says of the risk in starting a business that she and her husband took on together. Of the small structure beside their Capitol Hill home, they frequently joked that in the "worst case scenario, we can move into the carriage house."

Leaning over the counter, Connolly examines customer Jaqueline Lee's attempt at knitting a hat.

"I don't know what happened. It just doesn't look nice and neat," Lee says, holding her work up for Connolly to see.

Connolly identifies the problem and takes the needles from Lee. "You start with a purl. Then you just purl and knit, purl and knit, purl and knit," Connolly demonstrates. Within a few minutes, Lee has mastered the technique and her frustration has dissolved. Working with customers is what Connelly says she enjoys most about her business.

Rebecca Cutler started coming to Stitch DC three months ago and is taking her second class at the store.

"I was looking for a creative outlet. …[knitting] is a relaxing, fun hobby that I can do while watching TV," Cutler says. "You just have to follow directions."

Others customers similarly explain their draw to knitting as providing an easy, portable way to create, while simultaneously relieving stress.

"Zen-like" is how Stitch DC student Jennifer Richard describes knitting. In fact, Richard, who works for the American Red Cross, hired a knitting instructor to come to her office once a week to lead sessions for her co-workers. These one-hour breaks in the hectic work day allowed the staff to "relax and hangout."

Sharon Davis, a knitting instructor at Stitch DC, has been hired by offices and companies to lead such workday therapeutic knitting hiatuses.

"I call it ‘active meditation,'" she says.

While Stitch DC provides its customers with instruction and tools to create beautiful products, the store itself has contributed to the overall beautification of Capitol Hill. Connolly has been active in the renewal of Eighth Street SE since the movement's early days. Although she was not a founding member, Connolly became involved in the Barracks Row Main Street initiative soon after its inception and still sits of on its nonprofit board.

The organization, formed to work toward the revitalization of Eighth Street SE, began with cosmetic projects such as repairing broken lights, bricks and streetscapes, to actively recruiting new businesses to the commercial corridor.

Connolly expresses pride that Stitch DC, located at 731 Eighth St. SE, is one of these businesses that helped give Capitol Hill a facelift.

"I like Capitol Hill because it's my neighborhood," Connolly says.

Although she is originally from Long Island, N.Y., she came to D.C. to attend American University, where she met her husband and decided to settle. Having lived on the Hill for years, she had always hoped that such efforts to rebuild the area would occur.

"It has a village atmosphere, but is steps away from downtown. It feels like a small town but has all the amenities," she says.

As the store took off, Connolly decided to spread the small-town feel to other parts of the District, opening a second location at 1071 Wisconsin Ave. NW in Georgetown in February 2005.

"Georgetown has the reputation of being all ‘big boxes,' and we are a local shop in the midst of it," she says.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator