I Went to Joann’s End-of-Days Clear Out to Turn Deals Into Home Decor Projects

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Last April, when Bed Bath & Beyond held its store-closing sales after declaring bankruptcy, I popped into one of its Manhattan locations and found the shelves almost completely stripped of inventory, snagged by earlier shoppers who’d been quicker to the liquidation bargains. Dwell’s senior home guides editor Megan’s experience at another Manhattan location, though, seemed slightly less chaotic, and even in small but not insignificant ways gratifying. So last week, when Dwell’s managing editor Jack Balderrama Morley dropped a tweet in a team Slack channel pointing out the “crazy sales” at another major retailer, Joann, which on March 18 announced it filed for bankruptcy, and said: “Maybe a writer wants to go and see what home design can be pulled out of a dying store?” I bravely volunteered. Most of the online reactions I’d seen to Joann’s bankruptcy were more focused on corporate details than implications for crafters, but I assumed the news would circulate widely enough in at least some corners of TikTok’s DIY universe that the sales would generate a fairly quick clean out.

To be clear, my putting myself forward is only notable because from where I live in Manhattan, a trip to the craft store—or any department store, really—is a vastly different experience than in the suburbs. The Hudson, Ohio-based chain, which has operated for more than 80 years, has roughly 800 stores nationwide (all of which the company said will continue to operate as it restructures its finances). But none of those stores are in Manhattan, or even Brooklyn. Long Island has three locations, and there’s one in Scarsdale, about an hour’s drive north of my apartment (closer to Connecticut in actuality). Across the Hudson, there’s a Joann store in Paramus, New Jersey. Depending on the time of day, the drive is anywhere between 30 and 50 minutes.

My girlfriend and I have a Zipcar membership that we use almost solely for the purpose of completing another task that’s a vastly different experience when you live in New York City: grocery shopping. Every other month or so, we go to a Trader Joe’s outside of the city to stock up on groceries that we can drive home, not carry. We were due for another Big Shop and had also been talking about crafting over the weekend, since the forecast was gross and rainy. In Paramus, there’s a Trader Joe’s all but three minutes from Joann. So Paramus it was. We were making a Saturday of it.

Ohio-based crafts retailer Joann announced it filed for bankruptcy on March 18, but the company said its roughly 800 nationwide stores will continue to operate as it restructures its finances—and right now, the sales are aplenty.

Ohio-based crafts retailer Joann announced it filed for bankruptcy on March 18, but the company said its roughly 800 nationwide stores will continue to operate as it restructures its finances—and right now, the sales are aplenty.

The arts-and-crafts store, formerly known as Jo-Ann Fabrics, was a big part of my childhood. (Full disclosure: I was blissfully unaware of the 2018 rebrand and had been using the former moniker up until I learned about the recent bankruptcy filing, and am still having a tough time adjusting to the name change, in true millennial fashion.) In the early 2000s, the Jo(-)ann (Fabrics)(!) on the side of Highway 101 in Corte Madera, California, was where I bought fabric for weekly sewing classes with Winky Cherry (I’m serious), a kids’ sewing teacher and author, I’m just learning, who taught out of a downstairs room in her home. It’s where I found felt and appliqués for the DIY poodle skirts I wore to school sock hops. It’s also where I found the fabric, pom-poms, and ribbons I tasked my adult neighbor, whose children I babysat, with fashioning into a jester costume for me one Halloween; one side had blue fabric with a moon pattern, the other a maroon background with suns. There were elastic cinches at the wrists and ankles that created frilly cuffs. In retrospect, it was quite a vision for my young mind to conceive of, but stylistically…misguided.

Before last weekend, I hadn’t been back to one of the stores since that time in my childhood. One of Joann’s competitors, Michael’s, has locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and I sadly did not retain any sewing skills from Winky Cherry’s classes, so these days the selection there or at Blick Art Materials—of which there are many in New York City—does the trick for my occasional craft projects. I was expecting the scene to be somewhat depressing: sparse aisles stocked with the same art supplies you can now order to your front door on Amazon, piles of worse for wear fabric collecting dust, and nary a shopper born after the turn of the millennium (and that’s being generous). The latter, from my observation, was true, but other parts surprised me.

The clearance sale shelves at the front of the store, marked 25 percent off, were haphazardly stocked as though either winds of eager customers had already blown through them, spoiling any prior display order, or the employees had simply gathered items from other aisles—a partially unwound yarn bundle, decorative stickers, children’s trinkets, and, unexplainably, a pack of popcorn seasoning, and quickly dumped them in this section, knowing any real organization efforts wouldn’t be worth their while.

In addition to the 25 percent markdowns on the storewide clearance sale shelves, deals in other Joann sections included 50 to 70 percent off fine art canvases. We bought a pack of 8x10 canvases for $7.99 and two 5x5 canvases for $3.49 each.

In addition to the 25 percent markdowns on the storewide clearance sale shelves, deals in other Joann sections included 50 to 70 percent off fine art canvases. We bought a pack of 8×10 canvases for $7.99 and two 5×5 canvases for $3.49 each.

We set ourselves a $200 budget, keeping in mind a few DIY projects we discussed prior, and knowing that we like to keep a stock of craft supplies for impromptu projects, so this sale would be as good a time as ever to spend somewhat freely. First, we popped over to the bead aisles to scope out the four for $10 deals. We picked 15 bead strands—with between 10 to 40 beads per set, depending—and a roll of clear cord (for later necklace-making projects). We also grabbed a small organizer to keep the beads in; not on sale, but something we felt necessary, and reasonable for $4.50. The next aisles had some of the biggest steals we encountered: 10 for $5 on two-ounce acrylic paints, 50 to 70 percent off fine art canvases, and 25 percent off other art supplies, from paint brushes to sets of paint, pens, and colored pencils. We added a 10-pack of 8×10 canvases and two 5×5 canvases to our shopping cart, along with a 24-tube acrylic paint set and a few larger paint tubes, plus a can of black spray paint and some wooden semicircle cutouts for a DIY mirror project.

We walked toward the next part of the store we knew had something we wanted: fiber filling to revive our couch cushions, which we assumed we’d find near the fabric department. Between there and the robust yarn section, it felt, for a second, like we could be in any big box retailer of the home goods ilk. You could buy outdoor rugs, plant stands, picture frames, and storage containers just like what’s in stock at Target or Home Depot. In my memory, the Jo(-)ann (Fabrics)(!) of my youth was much less home decor-oriented.

Still, the crafts and sewing storage items were marked 50 percent off, so we grabbed three collapsible bins in the style of Hay’s recycled color crates for the space above our kitchen cabinets at $5.99 each. I also picked out an 11×14 black picture frame, with visions of repainting it with a two-tone trim using our new acrylics set. We grabbed two large bags of the fiber filling—40 percent off, $17.99 each—and at some point along the way picked up a five-pound bucket of air-dry clay, which ran us $6.99.

Every five or so aisles we’d pass another shopper, which, compared to the experience of shopping at most major retailers, is essentially like walking through a desert, but I’d imagined something much more vacant. I realized I was likely conflating my understanding of bankruptcy with the idea of returning to a forsaken mainstay from my childhood, so to see other customers at all made me feel like the place was sufficiently busy.

The general energy in the store, however, reminded me otherwise. At one point, I heard an exasperated yell from the next aisle, “Is it so hard for people to put things back where they fucking belong?!” I obviously had to check whose Public Display of Begrudge this was; when I walked past, there was only one woman, wearing a Joann apron and organizing inventory.

In the fabric section, we had to squeeze our cart past a plastic storage bin with wet floor signs on either side that was blocking most of the walkway in order to catch droplets from a ceiling leak. I saw another millennial-looking couple talking to a woman at the service counter and wondered what they were there for, feeling an instant sense of curiosity and camaraderie with the other shoppers visibly under 60. We thought about buying some fabric to fashion a small curtain/cabinet skirt to hide our eyesore kitchen trash area, but decided against it—mostly due to decision paralysis, but also because we weren’t sure anything from the fabric selection would even really improve the situation. (As a kid, the actual quality of Jo-Ann’s Fabrics was not something I noticed, apparently.)

At checkout, the sweet (older) cashier winced as our balance climbed and offered to add an extra coupon that was typically only available online to bring our total down. It seemed like she hadn’t rung up a $184.17 tab for anyone in a long time.

(From left): A picture frame we bought half-off for $10 and upcycled with acrylic paints from a 24-tube set on sale for $10.50, and a vase we decorated with beads from the four for $10 deal.

(From left): A picture frame we bought half-off for $10 and upcycled with acrylic paints from a 24-tube set on sale for $10.50, and a vase we decorated with beads from the four for $10 deal.

Our first DIY project was the easiest: we added the stuffing to our couch cushions, which have formed light indents in various spots because of my bad habit of WFH…from the couch. Then, we took some of the beads and Gorilla Glued them to a glass vase we already own. I painted the black picture frame with two blue acrylics and put a Really Bad Portrait of us from the Upper West Side flea market in it. (I’m still battling my partner to let us hang it up in the bedroom.)

Next, we spray-painted the wooden semicircles black and Gorilla Glued them to the side of our Ikea Hovet mirror, inspired by furniture we saw at Originario on a recent trip to Mexico City. (We still have enough left to do the same with another black mirror in our dining room.) We used some of the quick-dry clay to make a small, foot-shaped catchall—again, inspired by ceramics we saw in Mexico City. We’re still deciding on what to paint on the canvases, but now we have the supplies at the ready for when inspiration strikes. In fact, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what we bought on our haul, so that trip will last us many more DIY projects. And, should the clearance sales continue and we decide we want more bead deals or actually do want to give that cabinet skirt a try, our receipt has a promo code that can be used on Joann’s website, so we won’t have to brave another visit.

Related Reading:

Retrain Your Brain and Repurpose Your Furniture

I’ll Never Make Another Decor Decision Without a Mood Board


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