Kristina (owner of Gina Brown's Vancouver) gave a talk at the October West Coast Knitter Guild meeting. She told the story about Gina Brown's location in Calgary, and a bit about her and her new Vancouver location as well. If you missed it you are in luck because she gave us her notes!!!
Our business was founded by my granny, Gina Brown, who was a hand-crafter from the moment she could pick up a needle. The daughter of a couture seamstress, she grew up learning sewing, knitting and needlework from her mother and at the boarding school she attended in England. She was orphaned as a teenager, and having no ties to England, decided to move to Canada to become an occupational therapist. During WWII, she served under the Canadian Armed Forces Red Cross as an OT, teaching needlecrafts to injured soldiers to help with their rehabilitation.
Our family business started in the early 50’s, when Gina began teaching English smocking and other needlecrafts to the ladies in her Calgary neighborhood. This little cottage industry developed from a hobby into a real passion, and in 1970, with a Christmas check given to her by my grandpa Norman, Gina opened the first location of the store on 17th Avenue in Downtown Calgary. The business grew rapidly, and within a few months she expanded her merchandise range to include yarn, fabrics, macramé supplies and more, and moved the business to 4th street, where it was located for over twenty years. (This is not the most attractive picture of that store, but it is the only one I could find. The picture was taken by the police when one her employees accidentally hit the gas instead of the breaks and drove her car through the brick wall)
Meanwhile, in 1971, at the age of nineteen, inspired by Gina’s success, my mother Diana Brown decided to open her own small craft store, Tikka Woolcrafts, focusing mostly on knitting, weaving and spinning. Her first store was located in Banff, where she could operate the store for a few hours a day, and then go off skiing, and hiking for the rest of the day. (Only in the 70’s could this be considered a successful business model in Banff). A few years later, she moved the store to Edmonton, where it was located until 1985. In 1985, when I was a year old, our family was dealt a sad blow when my mother learned that my grandmother Gina had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Deciding that family was her priority, my mother decided to close Tikka Woolcrafts, and we moved to Calgary so she could take over the day-to-day business operations of Gina Brown’s. In 1996, my mother took over the business completely from Gina, and moved the store to Centre Street where it was located for 9 years. This is also when the store began to focus more exclusively on yarn, growing eventually to over 400 different yarns in stock. Sadly that same year, Gina passed away from breast cancer. In 2003, the store moved to its current 3000 square foot location, 5718 1A Street SW Calgary, where it continues to thrive. Gina Brown’s is currently one of Canada’s oldest and largest multi-generation yarn stores.
Given the family business, there was very little chance I would not become a knitter. I grew up in Calgary, crawling around yarn bins at the 4th street location. When I was five, my grandmother taught me hand sewing, and when I was six she taught me to embroider flowers and French knots to keep me from scratching my chicken pocks. My mother tried to teach me how to knit when I was seven; however the results were less than stellar. When I was 13, I begged my mother to learn to knit properly, and since the thought of teaching her moody teenager anything seemed a bit daunting, she allowed me to take the beginner knitting class at her store from a wonderful woman named Else Jordhoy, who has been teaching knitting for my mother for over twenty years. Else is a great teacher, and she whipped both my attitude and knitting skills into shape in no time. Since then, I have been a non-stop knitter. In high school I began working in the store, and have been closely involved with the business ever since, coming home for up to six months at a time to work in the store, teach knitting classes, and help my mother in any way I could. In 2004, after a short stint at Alberta College of Art and design, I moved from Calgary to Vancouver to attend Simon Fraser University. This year, after coming to the end of my English degree, I began to have doubts about whether academia was right for me. I realized that I loved our family business, but I also loved Vancouver (my home for the past 6 years). From this, the idea for Gina Brown’s Yarn in Vancouver was born.
About the Vancouver store:
Our location is at 3424 West Broadway, just east of Alma Street. It is 1000 square feet, and we will be carrying mostly yarn, books, and other knitting supplies. At this time, unlike the Calgary store, we will not be carrying needlepoint and crossed stitch supplies. The lines we are bringing in are similar to those in Calgary, and include such brands as Sirdar, Sublime, Debbie Bliss, Cascade, King Cole, Fleece Artist, Hand Maiden, Colinette, Mission Falls, Berroco, Kertzer, Skacel, Noro, Lang, Punta, Garnstudio, Sandnesgarn, Regia, Marks and Kattens, Diamond Luxury, Naturelle, Briggs and Little, and more… We will also be carrying needles by Addi Turbo, Kertzer and Aero. However, if there is a product you would like to see us carry, we are always open to customer suggestions either in person or via e-mail.
We are also looking for part time retail staff, as well as knitting and crochet teachers, and ask anyone interested to e-mail resumes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much for letting me share the history of our store with you.
Hope to see you at the new location
Janna Maria Vallee is a tapestry weaver, longtime knitter, and 2013 graduate of Concordia University's Fibres and Material Practices program. In her art practice Janna combines textiles and socially engaged media. She founded VY in 2008.