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Crystal Bead Bazaar

“Crystal Bead Bazaar”

Published in The Strip Magazine

Emily King

1012 words


Remember when you were a kid, stringing uncooked macaroni noodles onto a piece of colored yarn in art class? Or maybe you strung neon colored plastic beads onto embroidery floss as a demonstration of loyalty to your best friend. The tactile act of threading beads onto a piece of string can be a therapeutic sensory experience. No one knows this quite as well as Joanne Yalch, owner of Crystal Bead Bazaar in Lawrenceville.


When Joanne Yalch decided to open her bead supply store on Butler Street in Lawrenceville, she opened the doors to an avid community of beading enthusiasts. What was once a hobby is now one of the region’s go-to spots for finding distinctive beads from around the world. Not only does Crystal Bead Bazaar serve as a gathering place for Lawrenceville beading regulars, it is also a destination for out-of-towners. Many beading enthusiasts are willing to travel in order to sort through an unending supply of beautiful beads and materials. The storefront shop also offers classes and workshops for all talent and experience levels.


Though the popularity of beading may be on the rise, it is certainly not a new practice. Actually, historical accounts show evidence of beading almost throughout the entire history of the human race. Archeologists in France found beads formed from animal bones, believed to be created by Neanderthal man around 38,000 BC. Prehistoric tribes would string shells on strands of fiber as decoration. Ancient Egyptians formed beads out of glass by shaping them over a flame. They held so much value that they placed them in burial tombs. In 2005, archeologists discovered several ancient Egyptian tombs. The mummies were draped with intricate beaded masks.


Cultures have also used beads for symbolic representations and rituals for centuries. Europeans used glass beads as currency, in exchange for spices, slaves, precious metals and other luxuries. African tribes adorned their people with beads in order to represent marital status, beauty and age. Catholic rosary chaplets consist of groups of beads divided into group of ten, representing decades. The wearer says a prayer for each decade of beads. The Buddhist mala is a similar string of beads that helps to keep track of prayers.


Like the ancient cultures before her, Joanne also finds beading to be a type of ritual.


“It’s very relaxing and soothing, and I love playing with colors. Plus, who doesn’t love jewelry?”


Joanne opened Crystal Bead Bazaar seven years ago. Up until then, beading had just been a beloved hobby. She spent thirty years working in the restaurant industry, both in bartending and management. When she got the itch to try something new, Joanne’s husband encouraged her to start her own business. Her extensive experience in the restaurant industry would have logically pointed her toward opening her own café or bar.


Joanne had other ideas, though. The lack of quality bead retailers in the area left her frustrated. Many vendors were selling their bead online. Though these websites offered and endless variety of beads, there was something missing in the process. For Joanne, and many other artists, selecting beads, focal pieces and stringing material is an essential part of the creative process. Going into the store, sifting through thousands of beads, holding them next to each other: it’s a very tactile process. Buying beads online robs you of this sensory experience.


Joanne decided that she could improve the experience for local beaders. If no one else was going to offer the experience that she wanted, she would just have to do it herself. Surely, others were looking for the same thing. In 2003, she opened her store in her home neighborhood, Lawrenceville.


As it turned out, other beaders were also bored of ordering their beads from a website or a catalog. Crystal Bead Bazaar quickly became a destination for beaders from all around the area. Now customers take their time poring over the thousands of beads in her shop, like an urban treasure hunt.


Joanne is dedicated to providing her customers with the most beautiful and rare beads from all around the world. She stocks the store with Venetian beads straight from Murano, Italy, silver crafted from the Karen people of Thailand, Czech glass, and Japanese seed beads.


Joanne’s global reach extends far beyond the exotic beads she offers. She holds several Nirvana Beads trunk shows throughout the year. Nirvana Beads is a nonprofit organization run by monks, which benefits AMURT (Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team). AMURT provides aid to disadvantaged people around the world, and recently, the Haiti earthquake victims.


Crystal Bead Bazaar also has a variety of classes and workshops available for all levels of experience. If you have always been curious about making your own jewelry, sign up for one of the 101 level classes. Most of the classes are only one session in length, so you can spend an evening or afternoon learning the craft without having to make a lengthy or expensive time commitment. If you’re already a beading aficionado, but want to explore new methods and be inspired by other’s creations, try a higher level class. When you register for a class, you also get a discount for any other purchases on the day of the class.


If you are new to the world of beading, or curious about it, Crystal Bead Bazaar is a welcoming place to begin. Though lifelong beaders and accomplished artists frequent the store, Joanne makes the experience anything but intimidating. Years in the restaurant industry have instilled her with a natural ability to make you feel welcome. Plus, her passion for the craft makes her intent on converting new beaders.


Just like the ancient people that made beading a cultural custom, Crystal Bead Bazaar has a bit of its own folklore, in the form of a beautiful umbrella cockatoo. Joanne’s bird, Crystal, used to be a regular in the store. She would greet customers with her familiar, “Hello Crystal!” Crystal adores men and would flirt with any man who would enter the store. Unfortunately, she also had a kleptomaniac habit of collecting beads in her beak and then hiding them under her wings. Crystal has since retired from her duties at the store and was adopted, to her delight, by a man. Her personality is still evident in the store, as her likeness graces the logo for Crystal Bead Bazaar.