Sitka sign painter Kija Elstad paints a raven on the front door of a new craft store in town. The Raven’s Hook will open this week and sell beading supplies, kid’s craft products, yarn and more (Erin McKinstry, KCAW / June 13, 2020)

Sitka has a thriving arts and crafts community, but lately, it’s been struggling with supply chain issues. When the town’s go-to craft store closed last fall, it forced many crafters to get creative. But a new business is poised to close the gap.

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After a bit of fudging with Zoom, Sydney-Jane Armstrong’s smiling face appears on my screen. She holds up a colorful crocheted octopus.

“So, I’m a crocheter, I also knit, but I’ve been crocheting since I was about six years old,” she says. “I learned with my nana.”

Armstrong is serious about crocheting. She just started selling the blankets she makes. So, when Sitka’s long-time craft store Ben Franklin shuttered its doors last fall, she was heartbroken.

“For many reasons, of course, because it’s been around in the community for so long, but also because it’s our only place to get a variety of crafting supplies here on the island,” she said. “So it was definitely a tough blow I think for a lot of us.”

Sydney-Jane Armstrong holds up one of her crocheted blankets. She just started selling them and is excited to have a local supplier for her crochet business. (Sydney-Jane Armstrong photo)

She’s struggled to find reasonably-priced supplies online that ship to Alaska and don’t take forever to get here. And that’s why she’s super excited that a new store is opening its doors.

“It’s going to be huge for me to be able to go into a store, feel the yarn, really be able to do some custom orders and just have access to do a quick turnaround,” Armstrong said.

Inside the Raven’s Hook, owner Leslie Dupuis unwraps colorful skeins of yarn and places them in nearly full cubbies. The store shelves brim with paint, beading supplies, yarn and more.

“It’s just me for right now. In the future, I think we’ll be hiring some more people,” she says. “I guess it’s me, my husband and my five-year-old daughter. She might be more of an agent of entropy than she is a good employee, but she’ll get there.”

Leslie Dupuis stocks yarn in anticipation of this week’s opening. She decided to open Raven’s Hook to help local crafters and to supply her own crochet business. (KCAW photo/Erin McKinstry)

Dupuis is hoping the Raven’s Hook can be more than just a craft shop. Once concerns around the coronavirus subside, she wants to showcase other crafters’ work and host workshops and classes.

“We’re gonna set up a nice little seating area with some couches and everything. I want this to be a hangout place,” she said. “I want this to be a community location, not just a craft supply store. I want it to be more than that.”

And that desire is personal. When Dupuis first moved to Sitka, she couldn’t find a good crafting group, so she started her own.

“That crafting community just has kind of become my close-knit support and my group of friends, so they’ve brought me through a lot of hard times and they’ve been accepting and caring of me,” Dupuis said. “And I just want to share that with other people then too, you know.”

Leslie Dupuis holds up an octopus that she made. She started making stuffed animals for her daughter and then decided to start selling them. The craft is called Amigurumi. (KCAW photo/Erin McKinstry)

Before starting the store, Dupuis also helped start a Facebook group called Sitka Crafters SOS, where crafters can swap materials or sell second-hand goods.  It’s a group that local crafter and wearable artist Lois Verbaan knows well.

“I’ve always been into up-cycling and recycling, but those two events: the closure of Ben Franklin’s and the closure of the second hand stores during the COVID time in March, really pushed me even more towards up-cycling and reusing what was already around me,” Verbaan said.

Knowing that Sitka’s crafters were struggling to find supplies helped motivate Dupuis to open Raven’s Hook, but she hopes the community she helped create on Facebook will live on too.

“I think there’s a need for that social aspect for crafting too,” she said. “You know not just supplies, but supporting each other and saying hey, I need this kind of material, where do I go look or can somebody help me with this.”

The Raven’s Hook opens Tuesday, June 16, in Sitka, in the former location of Bev’s Flowers & Gifts.