Melanie Cross is a self-described “OK” knitter, an interesting distinction given the fact that she’s spent the last six months gutting and remodeling a downtown Kalispell shop in order to open her own specialty knitting store.
That’s not to say Camas Creek Yarn was built on a whim: Cross’s husband and business partner Andy Hurst said she’s been talking about having her own yarn store and pointing out possible locations since they began dating seven years ago. And Cross’s use of “OK” is probably a bit modest – the handmade Norwegian sweaters she knitted for Hurst hanging in the store are far from novice.
Opening her own store this December was still a foray into the unknown for Cross whose only previous retail experience was a customer service job at Snappy’s Sports Senter.
“I guess the question is, ‘Why open a yarn shop when you’re not a great, fantastic knitter?’” Cross said. “Well, I guess it’s the texture, the colors, the tradition, the community in all of it that I just really enjoy.”
And Cross isn’t the type to wait for the perfect moment; she’s created her own chances with hard work in the past. After her divorce, Cross became a single mother of five children, now ages 19 to 26. She took jobs to keep a steady income and later remodeled her own basement into an apartment. She used the rental income to put herself through school at Flathead Valley Community College and took a water safety job with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Early dates with Hurst were centered on fishing and remodeling – the two transformed a barn on her property into a four-bedroom, three-story rental. The couple began buying and fixing up other properties, and soon Cross, whose only training was woodworking class at Hot Springs High School, had partnered with Hurst, an experienced construction worker, to form Hurst and Cross Construction, specializing in finish work and cabinet installs.
“She’s absolutely amazing,” Hurst said. “She’s always been an ‘I can do it’ type of person. She can see a project linearly, see what needs to be done and this is how you do it. And she’s not afraid to try.”
That gumption has served her well in recent months as she’s labored to transform the dilapidated former Starr Bikes shop at 338 Main St. and the three apartments above it into beautiful and welcoming spaces. “When we bought it in May, it was horrific,” Cross said. “I was afraid to even go in the basement, it was so awful.”
That’s hard to imagine now after Cross and Hurst’s renovations: Customers walk into the store, which is named after a creek that ran through Cross’s family ranch in Hot Springs, and stand, mouths agape, as they take in the atmosphere.
Beautiful dark wood cubbies ¬– handmade by Cross – hold hundreds of colorful and varied yarns, from local threads to those imported from other countries. Strands of beads for jewelry – Cross’s youngest daughter Karina’s hobby – hang along refurbished brick walls. There are comfortable, community seating arrangements and free coffee served in teacups. The entrance to the store is a handsome, curved-glass front, fashioned after a World War II storefront Cross and Hurst saw in a movie.
Cross hopes the store will welcome knitters of all levels – there are free beginning knitting classes every Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the store stays open late on Tuesdays to give extra help – while providing an inventory that meets each knitter’s exact needs. “If they’re going to spend three months and maybe hundreds of dollars on a project then they shouldn’t have to settle,” Cross said. “The yarn shouldn’t just be good enough; it should be the perfect yarn for whatever they’re doing.”
While Cross is quick to give others credit – especially her husband – for the store, Hurst said it was Cross who was the “general” of the project, often working alone over the summer.
“For a long time she was working jobs because she had to work to support her family,” he said. “I’m so happy to see her have her dream job now, where it doesn’t feel like work.”
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