COLUMBIA — Before leaving for work one day in September, Bex Oliger watched a report on television about the stalled U.S. economy.
“Is this really the best year to open a new business?” she wondered.
That morning, Oliger, manager of True Blue Fiber Friends, a knitting supply business attached to a tire store on the corner of Business Loop 70 and College Avenue, opened the store that morning and waited for a customer — no one came.
But that afternoon, a procession of friends and patrons did more than make purchases. They told her the store had to stay open, no matter what.
“It ended up being a good day,” Oliger said.
Amid this year's economic uncertainty, Oliger and shop owner Shella Watson held onto their 15-year-old dream of running a business by becoming the center of a community woven together by more than needles and yarn.
“A conglomerate of souls are rooting for this place,” Watson said.
The childhood friends have taken some nontraditional steps to promote their business — hosting a weekly happy hour where customers knit, enjoy a glass of wine or two and share patterns.
Kirsten Richards, who lives on Social Security and disability checks, said everyone feels comfortable in the shop.
“Here I can sit across from a pediatric oncologist, and we’re equal,” Richards said.
Bringing people from different backgrounds together through a love of knitting is an important niche filled by the store.
“If something were to happen, they would have no other place to get together where they would feel comfortable,” Watson said.
While the store was responsible for new friendships in 2008, it also brought stress into Oliger and Watson’s relationship.
“I’d be lying if I said that I never had ‘buyer’s remorse,’” Watson said. In addition to owning the store, Watson works at a Coffee Zone and does data entry for a plumbing supply company.
“I mortgaged my life to open this store,” she said.
Oliger, who handles day-to-day operations, said she and Watson disagreed at times about the best way to spend limited funds. But, she knows Watson risked a great deal to finance their dream and wants her friend to see a return on her investment.
“I was worried about letting Shella down; I was worried we weren’t going to make it,” Oliger said.
The two agreed their friendship was separate from business, and they plan to expand their shop in 2009.
Works from local artists will continue to be featured alongside racks of knitting supplies, and they hope to incorporate live music into their popular Friday night happy hours, Watson said.
Ultimately, both Watson and Oliger said their most valuable business assets are a network of faithful customers who look for something larger stores don't have.
Watson pointed to a framed photograph of the bar at Booche's: “You see this? This is Columbia. You can’t get that at a chain store."