On the Road:
Purls Owner Sharon Wittenberg in Conversation

Tucson, Arizona

The Purls empire was launched by Sharon Wittenberg, whose self-dubbed title is Mother of Purls. During my visit to the north shop, I was lucky enough to sit down with her for a few moments and learn the history of the store.

The Birth of Purls

Purls was the result of a personal awakening Sharon had several years ago. She said, "I told my husband, 'We've done it your way for 30 years, now it's my turn. You can either come along or not.'"

He had no problem complying, as evidenced by the well-worn gold band on her finger.

Putting Experience to Use

Sharon already had a business degree. Opening Purls was simply a matter of applying this expertise to a subject she knew and loved.

Speedy Success

Within the shop's first six months, Tucson's other yarn store closed. Soon regular customers began complaining of the often-arduous cross-town trip. At first Sharon was reluctant to open another store, but eventually decided to go for it.

If the two stores are any indication, Sharon's business is a runaway success.

Lessons Learned

Sharon has had to learn some hard lessons over the years. The biggest one involved setting limits with demanding customers. "You must always be kind and generous," she said, "but not a doormat."

For example, she once had a customer shove an unfinished garment at her and state flatly, "Finishing is beneath me." As a result, Purls now charges a flat rate for knitting assistance in quarter-hour increments.

The fee is intended to make a point more than make a profit. "There really isn't any knitting problem that can't be solved in under 15 minutes," she told me, adding parenthetically, "Any fix under 10 minutes is free."

Final Words

In parting, Sharon wished me the best of luck and added, jokingly, "We're basically warped, twisted, sick people… and these are our better qualities!"

It's clear that the customers -- most of whom Sharon greeted by name -- love the store and its staff dearly.

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Purls owner Sharon Wittenberg in residence