A longstanding staple of the Uptown shopping landscape on Magazine Street is The Bead Shop. This specialty boutique featuring a comprehensive selection of beads, gemstones, and jewelry-making supplies has been rated one of the top ten bead shops in the United States.
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More than just a hobby
In the early 2000s, jewelry-making and bead-stringing became a trendy hobby, with bead supply shops popping up everywhere. The New Orleans metropolitan area was no exception — our collective love for accessorizing made this fad a good fit locally. But The Bead Shop has stood the test of time, and it was years ahead of the curve.
Founded in 1992 by pottery artist and NOCCA instructor Nancy Campbell, The Bead Shop’s jewelry-making offerings were originally made available as an option to offset the cost of pottery sales at her shop. Sales of bead supplies took on a life of their own, and within nine months, the shop moved from its original location next to the PJ’s Coffee Shop in the 5400 block of Magazine Street to the building where they still operate today – a converted house at 4612 Magazine Street. It has since become the prime location for professional jewelry designers, artists, hobbyists, and anyone needing something extra special and one-of-a-kind.
How COVID-19 brought an evolution
“The business has evolved a lot in terms of growing with customers’ needs,” says current owner Georgia Wilson, whose mother founded the shop. “We used to offer just a couple of classes once in a while, and I think we shifted to really concentrating on that. People are really hungry for in-person learning. There’s a lot of YouTube videos out there, but nothing can ever replace being in someone’s presence and being able to show them one-on-one how to do something. We’re grateful for that. That was something that was really thriving in our business for a long time.”
During COVID-19, that stopped. Manager Kasey Edwards agrees that classes were a fast-growing segment of their business.
“When I first started about eight years ago, we were just doing classes occasionally,” she said. “But right before COVID, we were doing multiple classes in a week, or sometimes we would have multiple classes in a day.”
They’re looking forward to when they can safely offer in-person classes again in the future. In the meantime, they’ve managed to maintain much of what has made their business so successful, just in a modified format to keep everyone safe and healthy.
During the pandemic, they kept things safe by limiting the shop to four customers at a time for intervals of 15 minutes and made private shopping appointments available for those who needed more time. Certain items are now available online or by phone.
Right now, Georgia says shoppers “can pick from everything from natural stones, which is probably my favorite part of the shop, which includes everything from diamonds to pearls to aquamarine to quartz and all kinds of different gemstones,” in addition to Czech beads, wood beads, bone, glass, horn, sterling silver, 14k gold-filled, crystals, and a comprehensive selection of customizable charms.
“And then, of course, basic beading supplies like cord, string, wire, and findings,” she said.
“We are still doing a ton of repairs right now,” Kacey said. “That’s a major part of the business. It always has been, but I feel like since people are at home going through their boxes of things and finding broken jewelry, we’re just getting bags of things dropped off to us. It used to be that we did a lot of repairs on the (sales) floor while you waited, and quick things. But now it’s strictly drop-off. We have Sarah, who is our repair department, who handles all of the custom design work and repairs.”
Local artists and designers also count The Bead Shop as a trusted source for supplies.
“We love being able to work with the local designers,” Georgia said. “We know that they can trust us. We’re not going to copy their design or sell anything like that or share any of their secrets or importers or anything like that, so there’s confidentiality involved in that. We make sure that they get fair pricing and sell them supplies in bulk. It’s mainly local designers. There are some artists that use our beads in their work, like 3D pieces.”
The Bead Shop is well-stocked with always-in-demand Czech glass seed beads and Swarovski crystals, which are a must for Mardi Gras designs. Those colorful, intricately beaded suits that Black Masking Indians create often include beads from The Bead Shop.
“We’ve really changed with our offerings for Mardi Gras Indians,” Georgia said. “It used to be that they just came in little by little in the beginning years, and we saw a need in what they were asking for. We listened to them and started to get the beads in bulk to keep the pricing down to what they needed for it.”
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Since the rollout of vaccinations, the beading room has reopened and is available for those who want to work on their projects in-store. Reservations are not required but may be a smart option to ensure a spot. They are gradually introducing more events at the shop, too. Follow them on Instagram for all of their latest updates!