Our Shop's History
The shop in the summer.
Welcome to our shop! I'm glad you found us. We are a bit off the beaten path here in Ely, with more residential houses around us than businesses. In fact, our shop is in the living room of one such residential building, giving it a homey feel since 1978.
One summer day I was sitting outside the store knitting and soaking up some spring sunshine. An elderly man walked up and asked if I knew the history of the building. I told him what I knew, and he told me I was pretty accurate. Come to find out his great grandfather built this house in 1888. The man I was talking to was Glen Nieman. His grandfather, Frank Hodge, built the house across the street and the building next door which is now Joe's Marine. Before it was Joe's it was a blacksmith shop.
Susan Saari (the original owner of Sisu Designs) often told me that there was a large family that lived in this house. That people in town remember a woman always pushing a baby buggy down the street with a train of children following her. Glen confirmed that his grandfather came from a large family.
Glen's grandfather sold the house to Susan's maternal grandfather some time in the mid 1900's. Susan's grandfather, August Haapala, opened it as a shoe repair shop. Many old timer's in Ely still remember this as Haapala's Shoe Repair and Glen remembers coming in many times as a youngster to bring in family shoes to be fixed.
In the beginning, when the shop was full of looms.
Susan Saari has a long and adventurous history, including being one of the first groups of people to be in the Peace Corps in the 1960’s. But I am getting ahead of myself. She was born in Ely and lived on Finn Hill for the first nine years of her life. Susan is 100% Finnish and chose the Finnish word Sisu, meaning “willpower, grit, tenacity” for the shop. When she was nine her family moved to Los Angeles. Every summer they would drive back to Ely to visit, so she stayed connected to her roots. She also traveled far and wide including a time in Greece. In the late 70's she moved back to Ely and bought the Shoe Repair Shop from her grandfather and opened it up as a weaving studio. She had learned to weave while living in Northern California in the late 60's.The weaving studio eventually turned into the yarn shop as more and more people wandered in looking for knitting yarn. Susan ran the store until she retired at the rich age of 73.
The shop in the winter.
I moved into the yarn shop in November of 1995. At that time Susan was taking in apprentices. If you lived in the shop (there was a small living space upstairs) and kept the firing going in the winter, she would teach you whatever you wanted to learn about knitting and weaving. I was a beginning knitter at the time and had never woven before. It sounded like an interesting thing to do. I figured I would stay in Ely for maybe three years, learn what I could from Susan, and move on. Life has a way of playing tricks on us. 25+ years later, I am still in Ely, I now own the shop, and I once again live upstairs.
In November of 2013, Susan decided it was time to retire and we decided that I would continue to run the shop. We sat at the table and signed the papers making me the official owner, but we all agreed that it felt like it was more of an adoption than a sale. I agreed to take care of the child she had reared for 36 years.
The other day when I was cleaning out the back porch I found an old, rustic, leather button, a remnant from the days of the Shoe Shop. It feels right to have a piece of the shoe shop in the yarn shop. The circle is complete.
Once again, thanks for finding us. We are a bit off the beaten path and we like it that way.
Diane, Heather (who work in the shop) and me (Anna).