Reno crafting retailers see boost from hobbyists, mask makers

RENO, Nev. — In mid-April, when the first wave of stimulus checks started depositing into bank accounts, many Northern Nevada businesses saw a boost in online sales.

Some even enjoyed historic revenue spikes.

Take Jimmy Beans Wool, a Reno-based retailer of yarn and accessories for hands-on crafting. From April 14-17, the company saw its ecommerce sales surge 80% compared to the same time a year ago, said co-founder Laura Zander.

“It stimulated the yarn economy,” said Zander, whose company distributes nationwide out of its 20,000-square-foot retail and warehouse space. “Because people were going to be stuck at home and they had no idea how long they were going to be stuck at home. And people were probably buying yarn for a ton of projects to keep them busy for quite a while.

“Crafting is one of the industries that actually got a big boost as a result.”

With people spending more time on hobbies in isolation to looking for new creative outlets to searching for alternatives to screen-heavy activities, online hobby and craft supply revenue is projected to increase 9.2% in 2020, according to market research firm IBIS World.

As a result, the market size is forecast to hit $15 billion by the end of the year.

Even now, eight months into the pandemic, Zander said Jimmy Beans Wool’s overall sales are still up 10% to 20% year-over-year — despite the fact the company kept its retail store in Reno closed from mid-March through early November.

With no foot traffic for nearly eight months, Jimmy Beans missed out on hundreds of thousands in revenue, said Zander, noting the company was able to recoup a chunk of that through e-commerce to people in Nevada. The net loss in sales to Nevadans was $217,000.

The company also lost out on a “huge chunk” of revenue from canceling five in-person events it had planned for August and September, she added. 

“We’ve had to figure out how to replace that lost revenue,” said Zander, noting Jimmy Beans has increased its newsletter frequency, held online events, created one-off projects and promotions, and reduced its inventory by about 25% to adapt. “We’ve been able to do it — it’s just been a tremendous amount of work. We’ve never worked harder than we’re working now.”


Some businesses in the crafting space were allowed to keep their brick-and-mortar business open throughout the pandemic. For example, Mill End Fabrics, a quilting supplies store on Kuenzli Street in Reno, was closed only one day this past spring.

“The community called on the mayor and said, we need them to open so that we can make masks,” said Mill End employee Tenaya Wambaugh, referring to the company’s fabric, interfacing and elastic supplies that were in high demand. “So we only lost one day and there was quite an uptick for about six months.”

Mill End Fabrics saw a 20% uptick in sales over that six-month span, Wambaugh said, attributing the revenue rise to people being stuck at home increasing their time spent crafting and sewing.

The sales jump made up for the fact Mill End Fabrics lost its traditional summer spike in foot traffic from Burners preparing for Burning Man, which was canceled this year.

“We usually do a lot of business for Burning Man, but because the masks took over, we were fine,” she said.

Wambaugh said sales have been slowing over the past month, pointing to the fact most people sewing clothes and quilts for the holiday season buy their supplies in September or October.

Though COVID cases are on the rise in Washoe County, Wambaugh does not anticipate another surge in sales for face covering materials.

“When it started, there was nowhere to get masks — the supply line was empty,” Wambaugh said. “But now, you can get them pretty much anywhere. From now to the end of the year, it’ll just be business as usual.”


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