Local Shop Helps Cultivate Community Creativity
When Susan Council’s employer transferred her to the Scenic City at the turn of the century, she never would have guessed that she would be running her very own bead shop decades later.
By Christina Cannon / Photography by Sarah Unger
“When I first moved to Chattanooga, my family was waiting until the end of the school year to follow, so I needed something to keep me busy without them around,” explains Council. While browsing magazines at a local bookstore, Council came across a bracelet that she wanted to try to make.
“It listed all the materials, but I had no idea how to do it,” she says. After some preliminary research, Council found herself attending weekly bead nights at a small shop in Hixson, and the rest was history. As Council honed her jewelry-making skills, requests from friends and family rolled in, which eventually led her to start attending craft shows as a vendor.
Council would sell jewelry on the side and began cultivating a network of friends who were also interested in beading. It wasn’t uncommon for Council to go on “bead retreats” with her newly found friends, and you better believe if they were ever looking for something in particular, Council was the first person they contacted.
“My friends started calling my stash the ‘bead shop of Susan,’ and it wasn’t long before they really encouraged me to open my own shop,” she explains. In 2015, she took the first step in making that dream a reality and began renting 500 square feet from another artisan, Carolyn Insler of Vision Stained Glass.
“I was very excited about opening the shop and placing everything, decorating, and finding fixtures. Carolyn and I purchased banners to put outside for opening week, which was all very exciting, but opening week was a letdown,” says Council. “Despite all the banners, with essentially no advertising budget, our opening was rather lackluster.”
With time, Council’s operation grew, and greater profits along with the need for a larger space led her to search for a new property. After operating out of a space on McCallie Avenue for three years, Council once again found herself needing more space. It wasn’t long before she found the perfect place along Lee Highway and transitioned Bead Therapy to a new home.
While still working part-time to help pay the bills, Council now owns her own building and manages a small team that runs the shop.
“All my staff bead and are very knowledgeable about the different techniques in beading,” says Council. “Not only are we the only bead shop in Chattanooga, I think I have the largest assortment of seed beads within 400 miles, so we have a lot to offer.”
In addition to carrying a large assortment of beads, Bead Therapy provides plenty of project kits, classes, and even does jewelry repairs. Council also hosts a weekly open bead night – just like the one where she got her start – when customers can come in, work on pieces, and get help from the shop’s experts.
In the future, Council hopes to offer monthly BYOB classes in which patrons can come enjoy snacks and drinks all while making a piece of contemporary jewelry in a group setting. For now, Council says her main priority is simply weathering the storm.
“I’m focusing on surviving COVID-19 and getting the shop to a point where it can totally support itself,” says Council. “But above all else, I really just enjoy helping people make something that they love and sparking that thing that makes them want to learn and do more.” CS