Dye Hard Yarns – it’s a fitting name for a store in downtown Oak Park that refuses to be anything other than a knitting supply shop.
And “Dye Hard” might just be the mantra for its new owners Chastity Dunlap and Tracy Ricker.
That’s because last summer the former owner, Jeffrey “Hunter” Couto, who ran the shop at 1107 Westgate under the name Fiberista Club, found himself embroiled in controversy after it was revealed he had stolen tens of thousands of dollars in knitting designs for his online clubs.
Those designs that were used without the designers’ approval or compensation were sent out to hundreds of club members every month for roughly a year and a half. Couto should have paid the designers roughly $3 to $8 per design, but many never knew their creations were even used.
That scandal ultimately led to Couto spending thousands to pay back angry designers across the globe and mediating through the Illinois Attorney General’s office with members of his online clubs who were sold stolen goods.
Last October, Couto announced that he was closing the store and online knitting clubs.
Now, one of Couto’s former employees and her new business partner have purchased Couto’s remaining inventory and re-opened the business as Dye Hard Yarns.
Dunlap, the former Fiberista employee and new co-owner, said in a telephone interview that Couto no longer has anything to do with the store and that she and Ricker have worked to make whole the club members Couto never refunded.
Dunlap said when she and Ricker purchased the remaining inventory, the deal entailed Couto using those funds to pay back club members who had subscribed to Fiberista’s online knitting clubs.
“We very much insisted that the once we purchased the inventory that the money would go to the customers that were owed it,” Dunlap said.
She emphasized the importance of rebuilding trust with customers.
“We love the people and we’re so excited to be able to have this opportunity and to keep the doors open,” she said.
Ricker, who said she is still working a part-time job while embarking on the venture, said she became a big fan of the shop after moving back to her hometown of Oak Park from Portland in 2015.
“I basically ended up going to Fiberista Club and that’s how I met Chastity; we became friends and she’s amazing,” she said.
She said that when the Fiberista Club scandal broke last summer it soon became clear that the shop was going to fail.
“(Chastity and I) talked and we decided we’re going to do this,” she said.
She said Dye Hard Yarns is more than a store; it’s a community.
“The people who come in there are so nice and so amazing, and I don’t want to see that go away,” Ricker said. “My hope right now is to do what I can to get this place on the right footing as we get started.”
She reiterated that Couto is no longer affiliated with the store in any way.
Dye Hard already has established an online presence through a new website (www.dyehardyarns.com).
Dunlap and Ricker say they’re focusing on the brick-and-mortar operation for now, but they hope to eventually start their own monthly subscription club.