Do-it-yourself projects are widely appealing, as the popularity of Pinterest attests, but before palettes and mason jars, jewelry making was the biggest DIY trend, made possible thanks to specialty shops. Santa Barbara has had such a store for decades: BEADS (137 E. De la Guerra St.;  966-1138). Run by husband and wife Andy and Barbara Nelson, it was the first establishment of its kind in the county and is now celebrating its 30th successful year.
Andy Nelson originally owned a leather shop as his first business, where he dabbled in selling beads as part of leather designs. “I became enamored with beads,” said Barbara, “and we were looking to open a new business.” In 1984, Nelson closed his leather shop in Miami, Florida, and moved to Santa Barbara; BEADS was open for business that year.
The art of beading goes back thousands of years in various cultures; however, the “everyday person” beading has only become fashionable within the last four decades or so. Craft stores, such as Michaels, popped up in the 1970s, but they tend to have limited bead options. So when BEADS opened, it was one of fewer than a dozen such stores in the nation. Since then, the couple has seen the discipline’s popularity grow exponentially. “We have watched it change from an embryonic stage, and it’s in full flower now. Everybody is beading, such as combining it with macramé and crochet. It has really grown and blossomed into this beautiful industry.”
The Nelsons’ success allowed them to expand their business; the couple rent the space next door to BEADS where they run Blue Lotus. Blue Lotus offers fair-trade jewelry of their own creation, as well as an array of other artists’ beadwork, glass blowing, canvas pieces, and clothing designs. As to why they started a shop selling finished creations, Barbara explained: “A lot of people come into a bead store and are daunted by all the selections.” This way, customers can find finished handmade pieces — it is also great for inspiration, she added.
The Nelsons’ commitment to the community is one reason why the shop has prospered. “I think we can attribute our longevity to a few things,” Andy said. “We have always gone the extra mile to be extra helpful to our customers. They have projects, and we work with them. Other places just sell beads.” Barbara added that because they travel the world for their bead selections, they “actually go the extra 5,000 miles.”