When Elizabeth Poe saw video footage of the Women’s March in Washington DC the day after President Trump was inaugurated, she was horrified by all of the vulgarity on display. Women carried signs emblazoned with genitals, many repeatedly chanted curse words, and celebrities delivered speeches riddled with explicit content and threats of violence.
Poe, who has owned a yarn store in Franklin, Tennessee for five years, was frustrated that so many women wore knitted “pussyhats” to the march, ruining what once was a “cute little pattern.” When a woman visited her store the very next day asking for pink yarn to make a hat like the ones she had seen women wearing at the march on TV, she took to Facebook and asked customers who wanted yarn to make a pussyhat to go elsewhere.
By the time she pulled into her home garage at 8 p.m. that night, her post was already getting a lot of attention on Facebook.”I couldn’t get my mind around it, people were responding so fast,” she said.
She stayed in the car for three hours reading the comments on her post before calling the police to alert them about the threatening tone of some of the responses.
On Wednesday morning, a crew from a local TV station walked into her store to film, as her post had gone viral. By the end of the day, she had received about 200 phone calls. On Thursday, 700 people called the store, on Friday, there were another 300 calls. On these calls, she’s been screamed at, called names, and threatened with rape and other violent acts. Some of the callers just breathed loudly into the phone.
Elizabeth Poe Is Not Backing Down
When Poe knows she’s getting a prank call, she answers the phone with a cheery: “Trump Tower, Franklin.”
Poe says she doesn’t think any of these callers will actually carry their threats out.
“They don’t have a lot of guts,” she said.
If the people posting vile things on Facebook were to actually set foot in her store, “They would feel bad for what they’re doing,” she said. “This is a community here that’s so tightly knit.”
As an example, Poe says, one of her customers has cancer, so another customer takes her to treatment. Poe sometimes will leave the store to run an errand.
“Just call me and I’ll tell you how to get on the register,” she instructs her customers then.
Poe sees about 70-80 customers regularly, which she says is about twice a week. In total, she estimates The Joy of Knitting has about 3,000 customers, many who live in other states and stop by the store when they happen to be in town.
To Poe, all of the hate is worth protecting her customers from exposure to unnecessary vulgarity. Recently, one of her female customers confided in Poe that she had been sexually assaulted as a child. Poe says these women shouldn’t have to relive their painful experiences in her store by being confronted with vulgarity. These women — her customers — have been through so much, Poe tells me. They don’t deserve to have a man or a woman come in here and ask for a ‘P hat.'”
During our 86-minute phone call, Poe never once uttered the word “pussyhat.” Instead she referred to the pink caps as a “P hat,” to avoid uttering a slang term for a woman’s genitals.
“This is not what women marched for 50 years ago,” she said. The women who protested Trump, including actress Ashley Judd, whom Poe tells me lives 20 miles from her store, “sunk below a level way below what he ever did” by using coarse language and playing on sexual innuendos.
Some people have tried to throw Poe’s Christian faith back in her face by insisting that Jesus would’ve marched to empower women. That may be true, Poe tells me, but “Jesus would’ve marched with his clothes on.”
Poe knows her customer base. In the days leading up to the march, she didn’t sell a cent of pink yarn. Nobody who comes into her shop protested or made cat hats, she said. And although much of the attention Poe has received has been nasty, it’s also helped her sales.
“Last week paid for new floors,” she says as she shows me carpeting that will soon be replaced. “I’ve done in these four days what I normally do in a month.”
She’s received orders and support from Hong Kong, Great Britain, and every state in the United States.
“It could have really hurt me,” she said. “God had me covered on that. I can’t explain why I’ve made so much money off of so much negativity, but I have.”
Poe, who voted for Trump, used to be turned off by his brash behavior. Years ago, she used watch him fire people on NBC’s “The Apprentice” and would think to herself: “Can’t you been nice when you fire someone?” That was before she opened her store.
“I opened my own business and realized you cannot sugar-coat it,” she said.
Real Feminism Is Helping Women, Not Being Vulgar
In the shopping center where her store is located, Poe is the only female business owner. Her store serves as a place for local women to network. Many of her customers are women who have recently moved to the area. When they come to The Joy Of Knitting, they form friendships and other valuable connections. A lot of women have found jobs from other women in her store because they network as they knit together, Poe said.
“In these four walls, I will control what goes on,” she said. “And that is my right.”
Before opening The Joy of Knitting, she worked at Community Health Systems, which operates 158 hospitals in 22 states, according to its website. Poe says she worked at CHS for “18 of the longest months of my life,” before tensions with another co-worker got too stressful, driving her to seek a job she enjoyed, even if it meant going into business for herself.
“When you go into business there are two cards on the table: failure and success,” she said. “When you quit your day job, the failure card becomes no longer an option.”
Towards the end of our conversation, Poe offered to give me a virtual tour of her store via Facebook messenger’s video chat feature.
The walls are a peaceful light blue, and the left side of the store is furnished with a cream sofa and a fireplace — a cozy environment for the women who spend hours at The Joy of Knitting. The space has a homey, living room feel. There are plenty of books and a mirror that used to hang in Poe’s grandfather’s restaurant.
Poe also sells goods created by local artists, and customers frequently give her little trinkets to decorate the shop.
“They want to be a part of the store,” Poe explained.
While Poe gave me the tour, a customer walked in and she introduced us. Later, she introduced me to her mailman, Mr. Gary, who was “grossed out” by the pussyhats when his wife explained them to him.
Mr. Gary handed Poe a pile of mail. Twenty-five are letters from haters and supporters alike. Later, Poe tells me about 60 percent of the letters have been angry ones, and 40 percent were positive and included “financial support.”
In the stack of mail were also two letters from the Better Business Bureau, detailing complaints filed against her by angry customers. While the nature of these complaints were “beyond the BBB’s scope,” the organization passed along the complaints to inform Poe of allegations being made about her.
One customer demanded that Poe remove the “offensive” post from her Facebook page and pin an apology post to the top for six months.
“You’ll never get an apology from me for protecting my customers,” Poe responded.
What’s next for Poe? After all the ire dies down, she’s planning to help a customer open her own yarn store and is thinking about raising alpacas to make her own yarn.
“I never thought the yarn store would transpire, so maybe I’ll be raising alpacas in a few years,” she said. “God has placed me in this community, and this is where I do my work.”
Before we hung up, Poe tells me to say a prayer for our country.
“We’ve just gotta open up that dialogue,” she said. “We’ve got to learn to disagree without being vulgar and starting fires and punching people in the face.”