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Laguna Beach


New owner carries on the tradition of The Bead Shop, a Laguna fixture for almost 50 years

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Forty-eight years ago, when the Three Sisters, as they were affectionately called – Suzy Millette, Virginia Mason, and Anna Lee Dixon – opened The Bead Shop, they started a tradition that has remarkably continued for almost 50 years.

Since 1973, mothers and fathers have brought their children in to buy beads, and then as those children grew up, they brought their own children in – and so it goes. To preserve the legacy of The Bead Shop for coming generations is the wish of the new owner Melissa Leigh Amish. 

It seems everyone in town has at one time been into The Bead Shop.

Melissa continuously hears the same comment from customers, “’I used to come here when I was little.’ That makes it special,” she says. “That tells something about the store. I’m very lucky and thankful to have this space.”

A recent visitor was inspired in a particularly imaginative way.

New owner closeup

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Melissa Leigh Amish

“An adorable young woman came to visit the shop, and we talked about how much she loved coming to The Bead Shop when she was younger,” Melissa says. “She makes cookies for a living and has a very successful business and large social media following. I started following her on Instagram only to see about a week later that she made a cookie inspired by The Bead Shop! Her business is named Mik & Cookies (@mikandcookies) – her first name is Mik.” 

The Bead Shop backstory 

The Bead Shop started at a different location and in 1985, the Three Sisters sold it to Peggy Smith who ran it with her husband George Harney. Then eight years ago, Mary Byrnes Rowe purchased it and began running it.

New owner hanging beads

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Every possible color of beads

With a short amount of time to flip everything, Melissa took over in May. She was looking for studio space at the time, and she talked to Mary, mentioning that if she ever wanted to sell, to let her know. 

To Melissa’s surprise, Mary called soon after.

A few changes 

The space in the back of the shop has been expanded to accommodate a large table and chairs for customers to sit, have coffee, and make jewelry – and ask for assistance if they need it – since an expert is close at hand. Experienced in making jewelry, Melissa’s line is called Leighton Fair. She has always made jewelry, she says – for friends, and by special order – although recently with starting her business, she hasn’t had much time to work on her own creations.

The shop will eventually offer classes, but now all are welcome to come in and sit at the table and if help is needed, she’ll provide it. 

New owner chair

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Inherited from previous owner – a beaded chair

“There’s no right or wrong way to make jewelry,” Melissa says.

Since reconfiguring the space, the work table has been put to good use, and the new setup has drawn accolades from visitors.

Local Patience Shutts says, “Several weeks ago I spent a couple of hours selecting beads and stringing my necklace at the big table in the back. It was super social and great music was playing. This is the best bead shop in SoCal and such an iconic Laguna Beach store!”

A creative past

Melissa is no stranger to the artistic field. Born in New Orleans, she moved to Florida, to New York to go to college, and then to Atlanta, Ga., where she worked for Turner Classic Movies doing original programming and documentaries for IMAX films. Although she is reluctant to name drop, she worked with movie stars such as Jack Lemmon and Gene Wilder, to name a few. Ultimately, she left Turner Classic Movies to focus on raising her children.

New owner kits

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Ready-made kits contain supplies for 8-10 pieces of jewelry

In 2011, Melissa relocated to Laguna and (since 2019) has a blended family of two boys and two girls. All have left home except for her son, who is a senior at Laguna Beach High School.

Melissa started volunteering at the Assistance League Thrift Store, where she is now assistant manager. When the pandemic hit, she became more involved and admits that she loves the retail experience. “It’s rewarding,” she says. She’s also done a substantial amount of philanthropic work including donating her jewelry for fundraiser auctions. 

The Bead Shop combined her love of retail and her passion for jewelry. To give back, she supports local artisans and jewelry makers by showcasing their finished jewelry in the shop, and she plans to add more in the fall. Currently, she features: Trunk Laguna (@trunklaguna), globally sourced jewelry and accessories for the sophisticated shopper curated by Laguna local Erin Decker, and Karla Pattur Jewelry (@karlapatturjewelry), which is beautiful, handcrafted jewelry consisting of semi-precious stones and pearls made by Karla Pattur in Laguna Beach.

New owner exterior

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Drop by and say, “Hello”

Initially, Melissa was nervous about altering a longtime Laguna institution, but she says the reception has been extremely positive. “Everyone has been very sweet and kind.”

And she’s been very busy. “When groups of girls come in, they get excited immediately and put the shop on social media and that brings in other groups,” she says, “sometimes pretty quickly.”

“I ran into The Bead Shop with my daughter to buy a gift and noticed others in the shop having fun making jewelry,” says Laguna resident Jennifer McCue. “My daughter and her LBHS friends have been back several times since to make their own creations. A gem of a shop with something for everyone!”

“Dads come in with daughters and sons, and men come in to make jewelry,” Melissa says. 

New owner bowls of beads

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So many beads, so little time 

A valuable service that The Bead Shop offers is repair, which if one has a piece of jewelry with sentimental value that needs restringing, trustworthy repair is priceless.

Crazy about beads 

Although Melissa inherited quite a bit of inventory, she is particular about sourcing her new material. “I like to see the things I buy for the store.”

Much of her inventory is in a storage room, so what one sees on display is just a portion of her stock. If you don’t see what you want, just ask.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Melissa is obsessed with beads. She’s been to bead shops all over the world. “I’m always on the hunt,” she says. “I go to every bead shop everywhere we go, and I love antique and vintage jewelry. I only repurpose it if it’s falling apart.” As a result of her quest, she has added some unique beads to the shop.

Into her third month as the new owner, Melissa already has an objective for The Bead Shop: “Along with my desire to carry on the generational tradition of visiting here, my goal is for this shop to again become a destination.”

The Bead Shop is located at 899 South Coast Hwy.

For more information, go to www.beadshoplaguna.com or call (949) 494-2115.

Follow on Instagram @beadshoplaguna.

The Beach Shop is open six days a week – Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.

 

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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