IOWA CITY — On any given day at Beadology Iowa, one might find customers shopping for jewelry or jewelry-making supplies in the retail space, an artist doing metal work in the flame studio, a crafter consulting with a staff member about a beading project or a not-for-profit organization holding a meeting in the classroom at the back of the store.
“We have our own line of finished jewelry, which lets people know how to use the materials or figure out techniques they want to learn,” said Karen Kubby, co-owner of the Iowa City business. “We have tons of tools, supplies and beads. We do jewelry repair and custom work. We hold a broad array of classes every month.”
Beadology Iowa was founded as a farmers market booth in 1987. After operating under another name at various locations over the years, the business had moved to a storefront in downtown Iowa City by the time Kubby purchased it with her sister Laurel in 2008.
Despite buying a failing retail business during a recession, they managed to turn things around in just 18 months’ time. Kubby attributes much of their success to a focus on being a community gathering place.
“We’re a community bead store,” she said. “Every day the backroom is in use by the community.”
Not only is the space, which Kubby calls the “bead lab,” used for jewelry-making classes, it is available to rent for birthday parties, bridal showers and other events. It also is offered free of charge to not-for-profit and social-change organizations for meetings, training workshops and fundraisers.
Organizations such as Gems of Hope, Global Food Network and the Rape Victim Advocacy Program have benefited from free use of the space, and the business has benefited, too.
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“We’re seemingly a niche business, but when people come in for a fundraiser they see what we have for them,” she said.
“They can pick out finished jewelry for a gift. They can get their broken earrings fixed. We have a lot more than beads.”
The space offers open lab twice a week, when people can bring in their projects to work in a creative environment, and rents out its studio to people who don’t have equipment or space for metal work or glass bead-making.
“It’s a maker’s space,” Kubby said. “We have a lot of regulars, and it’s great to see how their work progresses and how they branch out into different areas.”
The community aspect of the business extends beyond the four walls of the store. Kubby was instrumental in organizing the self-supporting municipal improvement district in downtown Iowa City in 2012 and served the organization’s first board president. The store manager is part of the organizing committee for Iowa City Pride Fest and is working to get more local businesses involved.
“That’s another way we are a community bead store — we get involved in the business community at a local level,” Kubby said.
Kubby said she is able to gauge the business’ success as a community establishment each year at inventory time when she is able to recruit 25 community volunteers to help the small staff count thousands of items in a day. In return, they receive food and a free class.
“It really says something that people are willing to take a day to help us count beads in a really intense process.”
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At a glance
l Business: Beadology Iowa
l Address: 220 E. Washington St., Iowa City
l Website: www.beadologyiowa.com
l Owners: Karen and Laurel Kubby
l Number of Employees: 3
l Years in Business: 31