by Dave Warner
It’s not often that a person starts out with two animals and then ends up with a large, thriving retail business because of it, but that’s what happened to Andy and Theresa McEvoy from the purchase of their first two male Alpacas in 2004.
Theresa moved to Little Falls in 1995 and met Andy in 1997. “The Alpacas were a surprise present that Andy bought me,” she said.
Prior to that purchase, Theresa had been working at a farm in Oppenheim, trying to learn all she could about the animals. “Two babies were born on that farm, and Andy called the owners and purchased them without me knowing about it.”
Those two were animals that she had seen born and had been helping raise, and she fell in love with them.
“I had always threatened him that there would be Alpacas in our yard someday, but I honestly didn’t ever see it happening,” stated Theresa.
In less than a month, they had put up a barn, had hay in it and fencing to take care of the new family members. She said, “We had them for about a year before we went to look for girls. We went to Fly Creek and left there with two females. There was a little male that came with the two females as well.”
The good news for Andy and Theresa was, that Alpacas don’t need a lot of room. If you have good quality hay for them, they are fine. Horses need a lot of room to run around, the Alpacas don’t. However, they are pack animals, so they need to be purchased in pairs. “They don’t like to be alone. They like to have at least one other companion,” she stated.
Alpacas can have babies (cria’s) every year, as their pregnancy lasts about 11 1/2 months. “We’ve got some that are 17 years old now, and they’re still having babies,” she said.
The couple developed a breeding program and soon had sixteen of the animals. At one point they had 18 adults. There have also been eight babies born so far on their farm. According to Theresa, there’s a lot of work taking care of them, so they’ve downsized the herd to eleven.
Anyone who has been into dairy or raising beef would find Alpacas to be a lot less maintenance. “If you’ve raised dairy, Alpacas are a walk in the park. Even though they’re easy to care for, you still have to be there in the morning to feed them and be there at night to feed them again.”
Theresa opened her first store at the Shops at 25 West in Canal Place in 2007. “I became a vendor there, and it was just me at that point. Andy was working full time at his own job.”
The business became so popular, that they needed more space, so in 2012 they moved to West Main St. “This location just kind of fell into our lap. It just sort of all worked out for us.”
When they first moved into the space, there were only a couple of racks, and half of the location had someone else selling instruments. Since then, they’ve expanded and now occupy the entire area.
Alpaca fiber is very desirable because of its qualities. It’s warmer than wool and is hypo-allergenic. It also has very unique insulating properties against both the heat and the cold.
Shearing is done once a year, typically in April. Each adult can produce up to twelve pounds of fiber. About 10% of the merchandise in their current location actually comes from their own animals.
Theresa said that it’s therapeutic just to come home and listen to them chew their hay. “They hum as well. There’s a calming effect when you listen to them,” she said.
Theresa learned how to spin the fiber, so she makes all of the shawls from their own animals. “Because of that, I’ve kind of gotten into all kinds of fiber arts, because it’s cool. I have some of my pieces on display, but they’re not for sale, just to show that you can make all kinds of things.”
They belong to a co-op where they send their fiber to produce clothing and other items, all made in the United States. Alpaca fiber is a luxury fiber, and a want, not a need said the couple.
The busiest season for them is around the holidays when it’s starting to get cold. However, because they have items that work just as well in summer, and the items that they sell make such great gifts, the business has turned into a year-round venture.
The couple stated that Alpaca items are not just a cold-weather product. “Alpaca is as beneficial in the warm weather as it is in the cold. The Alpaca fiber has evolved from thousands of years of them being in the Andes Mountains and it’s evolved to where it’s a comfortable fiber when it’s cold, but it’s also comfortable when it’s very warm. It has a wider latitude of comfort.”
That means that a sweater will keep you warmer when it’s cold, but the same sweater when it starts to warm up will still be comfortable as those temperatures rise, unlike a regular sweater, which would at that point, make you hot. “Alpaca breaths better than any other natural fiber. It’s also a naturally water-resistant fiber, so it wicks away moisture and doesn’t absorb water the way some fibers do.”
They say it’s also odor resistant, wrinkle-resistant, and just an all-around amazing fiber and the hiking socks are to die for. “When you’re hiking, they keep your feet from blistering and the Alpaca fiber is so anti-microbial, it’s good for people with problem feet.”
Many people have come back a year later and told them that their foot problems have gone away after continually wearing the socks. “It’s really good to hear those stories knowing that we’re also selling a product that really helps people. It’s not just about giving comfort.”
The store features hats, gloves, scarves, ruanas, running socks, diabetic socks, therapeutic socks, skier socks, teddy bears and many more items, including Alpaca jewelry – custom made exclusively for them. What they don’t sell, are the products made from the lower-grade fiber. “There are three grades of fiber. We stay away from all of that and just use the highest grade.”
If you spend any time talking with the couple, you will soon find out that the business is fueled by Theresa’s passion and love for these animals.
And when you ask them if they have any plans for the future, they say “This is it.”
If you’d like to know more about the business, you can call 315-823-1100, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit them at 27 W. Main St in Little Falls. They also welcome visitors to their farm (by appointment only) on Cheese Factory Rd, which is just three miles south of Little Falls. Call Theresa at 315-823-4773 to schedule your visit.