New River Art opened its doors to the public in mid-January ready to serve the creatives of the area –– students and townspeople alike. Converted from a former salon space, New River Art has an open, clean and organized storefront on South Main Street that emanates just the right energy Blacksburg needs.
It has a large range of products that any artist might want, from pens to watercolors and canvases. Since the recent closing of Mish-Mish, New River Art is filling the gap of a much needed local arts supply store. But New River Art does not function on its own. Its sister store, New River Fiber Co., is located down the street. The fiber store has been open since early 2018 and is primarily a yarn shop geared toward knitters, crocheters and crafters. All of the products stocked in both locations are mindfully sourced by store owner Jessica Jones.
Jones has had roots in Blacksburg since the early 2000s, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Virginia Tech and meeting her husband here. Her aspirations were not necessarily to become an artist, but rather to open and sustain a small, independent art gallery one day.
Upon graduating, she began working at the then-open Mish-Mish, and fell in love with the art supply business. Jones and her husband moved to New York City, where she managed another arts store in Chelsea. Her love for this industry only deepened from there.
When they moved back to Blacksburg to start a family, Jones started working in a managerial position at the yarn shop’s former location on University City Boulevard, where she bought the business from its previous owner. It all took off from there.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, forever,” Jones said. “And then, when the opportunity presented itself to buy the yarn shop and open up an art supply store, I kind of looked back at the last 20 years of my life and it all made sense. It was like every choice that I made over the last 20 years was leading to this point, was preparing me for this path. So, it’s been kind of nice.”
Jones hopes one day that New River Art becomes not only a place where one goes to buy things, but also to create things. New River Fiber Co. already embodies this vision, fostering a loyal community of fiber crafters in the area.
“It’s gotten to the point where it’s unusual for a customer to walk into the yarn shop and I don’t know their name,” Jones said.
The yarn shop primarily serves customers who make crafts such as hats, sweaters, scarves, etc. Functionality is core of the ethos that feeds the fiber community.
“We make things to be used, and hopefully handed down for generations to come,” Jones said. “That’s kind of my whole focus on the product I stock and the work we do with our customers … We want them to feel empowered to make an object that will stand the test of time.”
This mindset of intention and quality behind the everyday products people use is an important part of the yarn community’s “slow-fashion” movement, emphasizing the importance of crafting and owning useful items that will last a lifetime. These conscious choices aim to lessen the harmful impacts of consumerism, like unfair labor treatment and environmentally wasteful practices.
Jones hopes to open a dialogue with her customers about the why and where of her products –– including their sources and ecological constitutions. For example, Jones does not stock any synthetic fibers at the yarn shop, as they are made of microplastics. Clothing made out of these sorts of fibers can cause ocean pollution through being used and washed.
“The environmental impact of my consumption is very important to me,” Jones said. “The human rights implications of my consumption is very important to me. Those are very big issues to me –– but I still like to shop.”
Through choosing to shop at small, local businesses like New River Art & Fiber, the normal urge to shop can be reconciled with the moral dilemma of needless consumption.
Since Jones is a first-time business owner, she is no stranger to the struggles between small businesses and online shopping.
“You’re also struggling against human psychology,” Jones said. “Because we have become used to going to places, like big box stores, and being able to find every single thing we need or could want. And if we can’t find it in a big box store, we can find it online.”
Even though the town of Blacksburg is supportive of small-businesses, there are outside forces that create difficulties in maintaining financial stability here. Jones hopes that as time goes by, more and more small businesses will start to open up downtown.
In March 2020, there will be a grand opening celebration. Art classes will begin to be held at New River Art this summer. If you are looking to get involved sooner, New River Fiber Co. offers free knitting classes Wednesday afternoons and Tuesday nights called “Loops Group,” a gathering for intentional time dedicated to working on any sort of needle craft with fellow crafters and creators.
Jones is committed to making New River Art & Fiber a place welcoming every individual. As the art supply store becomes more established, Jones hopes that it will transform into a space that harbors a supportive and uplifting creative environment for customers and employees.
“I like to break down the idea that you can’t do something –– because you can,” Jones said.
In the meantime, as New River Art is solidifying its presence in Blacksburg, it is absolutely worth it to check out what these stores have to offer.