Thursday, April 2, 2009

Paulina is Next. Bead Store on the Left at Paulina.

Looking for beads?

What kind? Semi-precious, glass, or maybe ceramic? They’ve got those. Rare, African beads? They’ve got them, too. How about a light-green, jellybean-shaped Chrysoprase, or a multi-colored millifiori? Yup.

While you’re at it, do you need accessories or tools? Or would you perhaps rather just buy a pre-made piece of jewelry? They can help with all that.

“I would really consider a million,” estimated Ana Pizzaro of the number of beads they have on hand.

A panoply of colors fills Carvan Beads, in West Lakeview. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

The “they” is Caravan Beads, an independent shop in West Lakeview that specializes in retail sale of beads. In 1994, Charlene and Daniel Steele opened the store on Lincoln Ave. just south of Roscoe St. In 1999, when their success outgrew their store, they moved across the street, to their current location. Doing so gave them three times the retail space, as well as private classrooms, where they can help customers who want to assemble their own jewelry.

This afternoon, just after 4 o’clock, Pizzaro and Alex Agudo tended the color-laden store, with necklaces hanging down from bars over long display tables, and walls stocked with tools. Scattered among the wares were instruction sheets for making bracelets with certain kinds of patterns, as well as bead-related magazines and books. Light, instrumental pop music played from speakers.

The store had only a couple of customers, both of whom were browsing. “Our main times are in the mornings. From 11 is normally our rush,” explained Agudo. “As soon as we open, there’s people. And then it dies down from 1 to about 4.” More people, he added, will come in after work.

By Agudo’s estimate, weekdays see an average of 50 customers. On weekends, however, “It’s very chaotic”— especially on Sundays. “Due to our free classes, sometimes we can have up to 100 people,” he said.

The Paulina station on the Brown Line will reopen tomorrow after a year-long closure for renovation. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

But Agudo and Pizzaro are looking forward to tomorrow— and beyond— when they hope business will pick up from what it’s been. That’s because the nearby el station, the Paulina stop on the Brown Line, will reopen tomorrow at 4 a.m. after a yearlong renovation. (This reporter thought of checking out the opening but dismissed the idea in favor of sleep.)

Although the CTA put up ads for local business affected by the station’s closure, Agudo still thinks that having to walk from an adjacent station has inconvenienced customers who come from outside the neighborhood.

“I think it would have been more convenient if the Paulina station would have been open,” he said. He added that the shop attracts customers from out of town, too. “They’re in town for a couple of days. It was easier for them to just do that— to get off there and come across the street.”

To mark the reopening, the store is advertising a 10 percent discount on merchandise during the month of April to customers who show a CTA card. “The train really does dominate a lot in this area,” noted Agudo. “We hope that the fluidity can come even higher with the train opening.”

As customer traffic picked up this afternoon, Allison Weignad came in to look around. A nearby resident, she stops into the store every couple of months to buy beads.

“I just started, when I was bored in the winter, just like making necklaces and stuff,” she said. She had never worked with beads before coming in, but the staff showed her what to buy to make necklaces and earrings.

A display table in Caravan Beads. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

She said she hasn’t yet taken any of the store’s classes, but that she just received a schedule and wants to pursue one at some point.

On Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8, Caravan Beads closes for what it calls “bead therapy,” a time for customers to get free, one-on-one assistance with their bead-making projects. The session also doubles as an opportunity for attendees to socialize.

If Weignad decides to check out the gathering next week, with the newly-opened entrances to the Paulina station funneling people back into the neighborhood, she may have a chance to meet even more fellow bead makers than before.

Not a bad perk of springtime in Chicago.

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