As it turns out, there are a lot more bead stores out there than quilting shops. I don't know why this is. Quilting shops are a similar experience in that you're surrounded by your passion, the other people there are in an Acquisition of Objects of Desire daze too, and there is often a husband or two lurking around waiting patiently. Or otherwise. But where there might be one quilt shop for 5 or 6 contiguous towns, there will be 10 bead stores in that area.
At least this distribution holds in the Greater Los Angeles area. Maybe it's not cold enough out here to promote heavy-duty quilting. But I seem to remember when I lived in Michigan, it was pretty much the same.
With the fashion for surface embellishment currently on the upswing in quilting, there's quite a bit of overlap of customers, of course. I found a lovely shop in Ventura that was split half-and-half between beading and needlepoint, with a large selection of surface embellishment fibers and such that art quilters would drool over. (I'll have more details later on specific shops, I promise. With links.)
In one way this plethora of bead shops is great. There are so many within reasonable driving distance that my husband and I can visit a new one every other weekend or so. We pick a destination, search online for the shops and also a nice lunch place, and off we go for a day out together. Even if the shop is disappointing, we have a nice time.
On vacation trips too, we've been able to find plenty of exotic selections. Florida is a fertile ground. Two years ago in Mendocino, I found a shop in Fort Bragg that sold me some of the best shell beads I've ever seen. That trip almost certainly was the renaissance of my current beading passion, in fact. I had these beads that were so great I just had to make something from them. And of course I didn't immediately have everything I needed to finish that project, so I had to supplement here and there. That meant quite a few more trips to bead stores closer to home.
And suddenly, a full-grown passion was born. No more random collecting-but-not-using. I saw all these wonderful books with new techniques. I found things online. Magazine subscriptions were purchased. Embroidery. Netting. Peyote of all sorts. Fringing. Wow. WOW!
Ventures into bead stores are now both more targeted and more adventurous. I might be restocking on clasps...but I also know when I see something wonderful and unique. The downside of so many bead stores is probably obvious. One cannot buy everything wonderful one sees. The budget won't stand it. There'll never be enough time to make everything you can imagine.
I've been to one bead show locally. That was a small one, and was dangerous enough to the bottom line. However, the last Santa Monica Art Market was a revelation. The artists there are producing art jewelry I never would have imagined. Organic forms that play with light and color, and yet can be worn. Micro-macrame that incorporates wonderful stones. I can't say enough good things about what I saw at that show. It's not just stringing beads together anymore.
I think I finally know what I want to be when I grow up. And I'm so glad there are bead stores around to feed my new passion.