Niche bead shop celebrates a decade in business

Surrounded by lots and lots of colorful beads, Beth Shea recalls many good days as the proprietor of echo artworks, a Bremerton bead shop in business for a decade. - Seraine Page
Surrounded by lots and lots of colorful beads, Beth Shea recalls many good days as the proprietor of echo artworks, a Bremerton bead shop in business for a decade.
— image credit: Seraine Page

Beth Shea is the bead queen.

As owner of echo artworks, a bead shop and gallery, Shea estimates her shop displays well over one million beads. It’s easy to believe as every wall is covered in brightly colored strands of beading materials.

Her shop on N. Callow Avenue is a jewelry designer’s paradise considering she carries everything from vintage beads to strings of beads and full kits to create jewelry.

“There’s a lot of product to select from,” said customer Darla White. “She’s a master at this stuff.”

Last month, Shea celebrated 10 years of being in the bead business. Her collection is especially full of vintage and natural beads.

Originally, she did not plan to be an entrepreneur. But a broken leg changed all that after Shea graduated from college with degrees in biology and environmental studies. She planned to go on and get a master’s degree, but her leg hindered her from continuing.

“I really thought I was going to be a big biology nerd, but that’s OK, things change,” she said.

So, she decided to stay put in Bremerton and followed another passion: her bead artwork.

“Even though it had a bad reputation, it was a good neighborhood, so we decided to open here,” she said.

By we, Shea means she and her mother, Penny Morse.

“She’s the (real) boss,” joked Shea. She lovingly refers to her mother as “chief organizing officer” of the shop. Morse straightens up behind Shea, and tidies up the shop here and there.

Morse dabbles in designing jewelry, but is admits she is still learning from her professional jewelry-making daughter.

“It’s just, to me, amazing how her brain works,” she said. “She’s just an amazing teacher.”

It’s a niche business that’s tough, she said. But the job gives her flexibility that she couldn’t have working at a big retail corporation.

“The economy has not been kind to bead stores,” she said, noting several that have closed.

To supplement the store’s income, Shea travels around the country to bead shows to teach and sell her work. Her travels have taken her as far as New York City and as close as Arizona.

She also offers classes in her store, including basic beginner beading classes to metal workshops where students can make chains, metal etch and use enameling techniques. Shea contributes to the jewelry world by creating pieces specifically for other designers as well.

“I’m a many-hatted entrepreneur,” she said.

Because of her science background, Shea often finds herself running off on scientific tangents during her classes. She joked that her students learn more about pearls than they probably ever wanted to know.

“There really is a science to making things look right,” she said.

As a child, Shea played with her grandmother’s costume jewelry. Then, she was handed tools by male family members and learned how to take things apart. As a result, she started taking apart her grandmother’s jewelry and reassembling it, which triggered her passion to start creating her own.

Aside from her passion exploding into the development of a bead shop, Shea’s jewelry is also making its way to displays in Seatac airport.By the end of January, her earrings will be available in a kiosk through the Washington C.A.S.H. program. She expects to create around 400 pieces monthly to showcase, she said.

Customers of all ages wander through the doors of echo artworks, Shea said. Her favorite is watching mothers and grandmothers come in with children and teaching them them the craft. She’s had mothers stroll in with babies, and she’s seen high school girls looking to create a matching jewelry set for a prom dress.

“I had a 95-year-old (customer) who could bead faster than me,” Shea said.

Even though she thought she’d be writing grants and doing research, Shea said she’s grateful to where she has ended up--in a community that has embraced a beading enthusiast.

The key to keeping a lively business spirit is loving what you do, the owner believes.

“If you don’t have the passion for it, everything gets old fast,” she said. “I’m having a great time being in the community.”


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