After getting a degree in anthropology and an early childhood credential, Susan Stewart worked in teaching, construction and archeology and became a parent. One thing she didn’t anticipate, however, was owning a bead store.
Beads by the Bay was originally called “Best Little Bead Store” under a different owner. Stewart decided to take the Beads by the Bay name with her when she opened up the store at 333 Morro Bay Blvd.
“This all just sort of fell into place at a time in my life when I needed an income and turned out to be a good, good move,” Stewart said.
As a child of the sixties, Stewart was always doing some sort of arts and crafts, from beading to painting to copper enameling. During her archeology work, she learned how to do the rosette stitch, a type of bead embroidery work.
After a friend took her on a trip that involved beading, Stewart started buying more beads, taking classes and overall expanding her beading skills. Now, she doesn’t get to do as much of her own work as she’d like, as she’s often doing repairs or commissions for customers.
“Just running the business takes a lot, but sometimes I get to play a little bit,” Stewart said.
Stewart’s beads and glass come from all over the world, including Nepal, the Czech Republic, China, Indonesia and Peru. The products come from vendors who go to big shows with vans full of beads, and Stewart often goes to some of the smaller local shows.
Stewart loves that so many of the stores in Morro Bay are owner-operated, small businesses, and that the older section of town where her store is located is more oriented for locals and less towards tourists. This way, she gets to work with people who want to create.
“I love this part of town, it’s got a lot of character, a lot of history to it,” Stewart said.
Stewart doesn’t have any employees at Beads by the Bay, but she did take on a partner not long after opening. While Stewart runs the bead section at the front of the store, Helen Edwards takes care of the garden in the backyard of the shop.
Edwards is at the store from Sunday through Tuesday, and Stewart is there Wednesday through Saturday. Stewart said all of her days at the store are different, but they all start with the shop cat, who she calls Nachos, waiting at the door for food.
Sometimes, there will be customers waiting at the door for her to open with questions or needing repairs. But when the day doesn’t start off with customers, Stewart is receiving deliveries or organizing new inventory.
“Often it’s just a steady flow of people all day long, which is cool because then the day goes faster sometimes, especially on a busy weekend,” Stewart said. “I almost feel like I’m doing fast food, you know, because you’re just at the register constantly ringing things up, and that’s great. But part of what I like is the customer interaction and the ability to do good customer service.”
Neither Stewart nor Edwards have the luxury of a lunch break throughout their days at Beads by the Bay, as they’re running the shop and helping customers all day. Stewart called this “the nature of retail.”
Beads by the Bay hosted classes in their garden section prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, they’re starting the classes up again by bringing back one of their old teachers to lead wire-wrapping lessons.
Stewart says they’re hoping to host classes every other Saturday. Most of the teachers she’s met by simply observing the people coming into the shop to work on something specific, or by meeting people at festivals.
Beads by the Bay is always looking for new people to come and teach. They’ve also had classes for stringing and beading and making bracelets and necklaces, and several with plants and potting.
“People like to get together and just do it because it’s fun and you get little tips,” Stewart said.
Stewart has noticed more college students coming by the store and bringing their friends, in addition to their typical flow of locals and regulars. About every week now she has students coming in to get some beads.
Beads by the Bay is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.