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After cancer scare, woman opens her dream yarn shop

By KATHLEEN SHAW

Daily News-Record, via AP

HARRISONBURG, Va. — When Amy Strunk had a cancer scare this summer, it chilled her to the bone. For anyone who’s had to sit in a starchy office and hear the dreaded words fall out of a doctor’s mouth, they know the feeling, but the news was an even harder pill for Strunk to swallow.

At 25, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, but the diagnosis came after eight months of symptoms and trips in and out of doctors’ offices. When the disease was identified, a minor procedure was out of the cards and she went through vicious rounds of chemotherapy and radiation to rid her body of the sickness. Thus, a recurrence of cancer would’ve been the end.

“I got a pretty strong dose of radiation, so they told me if I got it again, they couldn’t put me in radiation,” she said. “So, I got this idea I’d be dying soon.”

At 20 some years old, Strunk had dreams for what the future promised ahead. One such fantasy was opening a yarn shop after retiring because the business held fond memories in her heart.

Suddenly, the future was dark and felt limp and resigned. Fortunately, it was only a scare, but Strunk learned the hard lesson that everything could be snatched away at a moment’s notice, and she cast aside the idea of waiting for acting and living in the moment.

“I thought why am I waiting? Maybe I’ll never retire, maybe retirement isn’t in the cards for me. So, if I want to do it, I should just do it,” Strunk said. “Then I found there was a space in Agora, and it felt like all the stars were aligning.”

On Tuesday, Rocktown Yarn opened inside the Agora Downtown Market in Harrisonburg.

Strunk learned to knit and crochet when she was 7 years old, and her grandmother passed down her sewing skills when Strunk was 10. Whenever her family traveled growing up, Strunk said, her mother, Julie, would always stop and ask to find a yarn shop. What others might see as rows of knitting needles and bundles of cloth, her mother knew was a treasure trove of kind faces and welcoming characters, wherever they were going, regardless of where they were from.

“I was always going into yarn shops,” Strunk said of her early adventures.

When she moved away from home and tried to find her way in a new state, she turned once more to the place her mother taught her to look.

“I knew a lot of local yarn shops had cool stuff, but what I didn’t realize until 2017 was there was this really robust community that came along with yarn shops,” she said. “You make friends and make connections. It’s people of all trades. It’s not just people your age. It’s younger people. It’s older people. Ideally, it’s a good mix of men, women, different races.”

As the idea of establishing her own yarn shop began gaining focus in her mind this summer, Strunk knew creating that same welcoming feel for all people was essential.

“When I opened my own shop, I wanted to really emphasize this idea of inclusivity,” she said.

While there are supplies for nerdy and feminine crafters as well as novice to expert stitchers, Strunk is working to bridge her business with different communities and agencies across Harrisonburg to make the most of every thread.

“Whether that’s providing the right supplies or the space to work, we have a table and once COVID ends, people can come in and do their crafting,” she said. “People who knit and crochet small items like scarves, hats, gloves, and they’re easy to make, they’re pretty quick. So, if people are willing to donate those items, then we can give those items.”

Inside, Rocktown Yarn is lined with boxes of knitting kits to bring classic characters from franchises like Harry Potter and Star Wars to life, as well as rows of threads and tools of all fashions. Amid the baskets and cubbies of glitter, neutral or bold style yarns are several brands, including Rockingham County’s own Simple Hill Farms.

Heidi Lantz-Trissel owns the local fiber farm on the outskirts of Harrisonburg and shares more than a professional relationship with Strunk. She ran a shop similar in name, Rocktown Yarns, from 2005 to 2008 near the wooden bridge on Water Street.

When she learned Strunk planned to open Rocktown Yarn in Agora, she said their meeting seemed inevitable, and she’s grown excited by the ideas Strunk has in store for Harrisonburg.

“There’s definitely a big community of people who are interested in knitting and crocheting and fiber. I think there’s possibly a resurgence in interest right now with people looking for ways to entertain themselves in their homes,” she said.

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