One time I heard that Minnesota has an abundance of creative people because we have so much time indoors in winter. This was a really long winter.
As I sit writing this in my studio, I see distinct piles on nearly every surface of projects both finished and in-progress. I am certain my own creative output increased this winter.
As that last debilitating snowstorm that brought Minneapolis to a halt was approaching central Minnesota, I was riding its leading edge. I spent a few days in northern Minnesota then took a quick break in Alexandria on my way home. While in a thrift store sorting through a pile of vintage Christmas wrapping paper (it’s never too early!) a radio announcer said schools would be closing at 2.
I heard something was on the way but the sky was just slightly overcast and didn’t seem threatening. But Alexandria is known for its blizzards. So I asked the store clerk for her professional opinion. She said I should get on my way. I hopped on Interstate 94 as flakes began to swirl and the darkened sky filled my rearview mirror.
I must have been moving faster than the storm, though, because an hour later it seemed to lighten up a bit, just as I passed a billboard for Crafts Direct: “Inspire. Create. Decorate.” Then, in smaller type: The Midwest’s largest independently owned arts and crafts store.”
I’d seen their billboards for years. The square footage always seemed to go up, and a few years ago they added a cafe. But I always seemed to be in a hurry and couldn’t stop.
I checked my mirror again. Not too dark. How long could it take? I took exit 158 into Waite Park.
I used Google Maps to find the store because it was hidden in an industrial area. A large parking lot appeared to my right. Set back from the road was a series of Western-style storefronts in different colors with a variety of awnings and typographic signs visually announcing the store. I had arrived!
Crafts Direct has 40,000 square feet of craft supplies. The vast space is divided into sections with 32 numbered rows. Help desks are located along one wall. Most of the endcaps show project examples for inspiration.
I thought of the approaching snowstorm. Would I have time to get to the other end and back?
There was an entire aisle of glue and tape. A fabric and yarn department, rubber stamps, scrapbooking, paper crafts, floral, wedding, candle- and soap-making supplies, beads, jewelry findings, wood, paint, picture frames, children’s crafts, candles, racks of colorful scissors, home goods, cookware — even clothes! It was the largest and most exhaustive craft store I’d ever been in. My basket soon got heavy.
Crafts Direct’s roots go back to 1990. This is their second location, and they’re still run by the original family. They have classes, a creativity passport for loyal shoppers, a Quilt Block of the Month program, online shopping and an extensive social media presence.
The company also believes in giving back to the community. Shoppers receive 40 percent off an item’s price if they donate $1 to the store’s Charity of the Week program. Those accumulated dollars, plus an additional corporate donation, are given to different charities each week. So far this year it totals $24,800.
Crafts are a booming business today. The craft industry increased by more than one billion dollars between 2011 and 2016 and is even stronger today.
I believe that we’re in a similar situation to the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 1800s. Back then people rebelled against the mass production of the machine age. Artists created items by hand and worked in ceramics, leather, metals, textiles and other materials.
According to the Craft Industry Alliance, more young people and men are getting involved with crafts. Nearly half the people shopping at Crafts Direct when I was there were men. And they were shopping, not just lingering behind someone else.
Today, we are diligently making things with our hands to counter balance our digital lives.
Crafting has changed and evolved over the years. Projects have gotten more complex and sophisticated. According to industry experts, coloring books are on their way out. Current trends include more succulent gardens, hand lettering, embroidery, fabric stencils, weaving and macramé, retro typewriters and sewing machines, linoleum block printing, marbling paint and the continued use of glitter. Stores that offer creative projects as entertainment are still on the rise.
After spending about an hour-and-a-half at Crafts Direct, I went to my snow covered car with a clear vinyl yardage to make a tote bag, two-part epoxy resin for a state fair project, some rug hooking supplies, a bamboo handled spatula, a cluster of artificial flowers and a quarter yard of stretch knit fabric for some flip flops I’ve been meaning to alter.
I’ll be busy.
They know their customers might get weak from exhaustive shopping, so the in-house cafe serves sandwiches, wraps, paninis, soups, espresso drinks, fruit smoothies, ice cream and homemade cookies and bars.
For comments or suggestions write to [email protected]. Follow Linda Koutsky on Facebook for more tourist tips.