What makes a perfect bead store? The answer is certainly different for every beader, as we each have different needs and favorites depending on our style and the type of beading that we do. And just as there are many types of beaders, there are many kinds of bead stores, too. Naturally, some of them will be better than others.
The city where I live has only two craft stores - one of them a big box chain - and no dedicated bead stores. This means that I have to shop for supplies online, which certainly provides a lot of choice, but not necessarily a lot of inspiration. The ability to browse, touch, and compare beads in person is invaluable.
Two years ago I was able to visit bead stores in a nearby city, and I was a little surprised by what I found. One shop had a large selection of very basic beads from China, in a variety of materials. They also had lots of Czech seed beads, some Japanese seed beads, and a few unique odds and ends that were fun to browse. The second store was just a little bit smaller, but their selection was limited mostly to the generic Chinese imports - basic lampwork, metal charms, gemstones, and some bone.
I didn’t think much about the selection that I found in these two stores until I made another trip this summer, and happened upon another tiny bead shop. I was really excited to browse, and perhaps find some unique focals and accents, plus top up some of my favorite seed bead colors. The selection that I found was confusing, to say the least. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it was almost identical to the second, smaller bead store that I visited on my last trip. It seemed as if the stores were both stocked from a kit, rather than selected by hand.
I didn’t end up buying even a single bead - only a few met my picky criteria, and they weren’t exciting enough to make it worthwhile. I recognized a few of my favorite Czech seed bead colors, but when I looked for the ones I needed, I found that they looked generic up close. And without labels, I couldn’t be sure that they were of good quality. I was reluctant to ask because I had already inquired about 125 yard spools of Fireline - a curt “No” was the only answer I received. I couldn’t help but compare this store to the bigger one from my last trip. There, when I asked if they carried tagua, a polite “No” turned into a ten minute chat about natural beads.
When I left the store I was disappointed and confused. I also found myself feeling rather annoyed. Even if I wasn’t so selective with the materials that I use, there weren’t very many offerings in the shop that would meet the standards of a seasoned beader. I thought about it for the rest of the day, and found myself wondering just what the purpose of a bead store like this could be.
Considering the natural progression of a beader’s repertoire, is it likely that a store carrying beads, but none of the things that serious beaders want, is run by someone that doesn’t bead themselves? Why would anyone do that? The question that really made me ponder and puzzle was this: Who is supporting these stores, and what are they doing with the beads they buy? And if the customers eventually upgrade to higher quality materials, doesn’t that mean that the store will lose their business? If not for each new generation of crafters cutting their teeth on the cheap stuff, these bead stores would be totally unsustainable.
Although it was several weeks ago, I still feel a bit steamed whenever I think about these two little bead shops with their uninspired and uninspiring selection. I can’t quite say why it bothers me in such a personal way, and it makes me feel like a bead snob - in a bad way. I can only hope that these shops will inspire bead novices to start the craft, and move up from there.
I’d love to hear what you think! Do you have a favorite brick and mortar bead shop? What makes it special?
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