FREEPORT — Jeffrey Wall and Dennis Rinkenberger moved to Freeport nearly 10 years ago to become small business entrepreneurs.
The couple had lived and worked in Chicago, but wanted to move to Wall’s home in the town of Freeport to create a quiet life for themselves and to be part of the local business community.
They started small by opening up The Wall of Yarn on Stephenson Street in downtown. The cozy shop specializes in Scandinavian yarn, and offers a wide selection of yarns, needles and hooks. They also have classes for those who want to try their hand at learning the art of knitting, crochet and felting.
With the success of the Wall of Yarn, which opened in 2011, the couple became known as the “yarn guys,” which led them to business venture No. 2 called The Yarn Guys, making them the sole North American distributor of yarn from the Rauma Wool factory in northern Norway.
Rinkenberger said the specialty yarn has been popular with Norwegian knitters for nearly a century. Rauma uses Norwegian wool of the finest quality to produce their yarns. He adds the yarn is great for colorwork, knitting or felting.
“We started small, and we grew, and still we keep the business local,” Rinkenberger said. “We do eight retail shows a year, with one show equaling what we make in one year at the yarn shop. Even when COVID happened, we knew we weren’t going to let it stop us.”
Wall added, “We follow what our customers want. They are the reason we have been able to grow. It is going well for us. We are committed to business, to community and to staying current.”
Building on the success of two businesses, the men saw another need for themselves and other local business owners. So they opened the Exchange Street Printery in the back end of the yarn shop.
“Printing is essential to any business, and what we found is there was nothing in Freeport to be able to meet our printing needs, so we created our own business,” Rinkenberger said. “We started to hear about the similar needs from other businesses, and there is no reason to have a machine like this and not make it available to others.
“We decided to open a business that helps us and we can also help other small businesses. Again, it’s about keeping it local.”
Exchange Street Printery can make booklets, brochures, business cards, calendars, and other products. Rinkenberger said they even have material to make menus and other items by using paper that can be washed and sanitized to make things COVID-19 safe. He also wants to eventually be able to produce blueprints for contractors. Currently, the only place to have this type of work done is in Rockford.
Marie Trimble Stott, a local photographer, said having the print shop has made it much easier for her to be able to print some of her images.
“As a local photographer I reached out to Dennis and was thrilled with what he could do for me,” Stott said. “I am all about quality.”
Wall said it’s important to him to be back living, working and thriving in the community where he grew up.
Rinkenberger said the key to their success is paying attention and listening to others. COVID-19 presented them with a challenge, but they say they are beating the odds.
“Every person can be an entrepreneur,” Rinkenberger said. “The key is listening to others, and we are not afraid to fail.”
Wall added, “Our life and our livelihood is wrapped in three businesses now. Failure is not an option, but with any business venture, you have to be flexible, and be willing to expand when the time is right.”
Jane Lethlean: [email protected]; @DOGWMN2