Bead Shop holds a 50-year trove of memories 

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It’s October 1973. The Rolling Stone’s hit “Angie” was number 1 on the charts, Queen Elizabeth II opened the Sydney Opera House and the Oakland A’s beat New York Mets to win the World Series.

In Laguna Beach, three friends in their 40s were at a crossroads.

Suzie Milette, Virginia Mason and Analee Dixon were searching for purpose after a series of life events found them all starting over. After considering a bookstore, the three decided to pool their money and open a Bead Shop instead. The timing was perfect.

Former Bead Shop owner Virginia Mason points to her two friends and co-owners, Analee Dixon (middle in photo) and Suzie Milette (far right). Clara Beard/LB Indy

“It was 1973, and a lot of people were in the hippie mode,” said Mason, 90, who now spends her time writing novels and poems. “Especially here in Laguna. People liked beads, and they liked to wear beads. It’s just sort of in your blood.”

The three women officially opened The Bead Shop just half a block north of its current location at 899 South Coast Highway on Oct. 15. 

Mason said that in the beginning, they learned the business as they went.

“I had a great idea to put the beads in little flower pots and then abalone shells filled with sand because I liked the idea of the beach theme. That was a nightmare because small beads would get lost in the sand. It was a mess. But we learned by doing.”

With Milette in charge of buying product, Mason concentrated on shop design and sales while Dixon took care of the books. 

“Suzie was the sparkplug, and Analee was very good with numbers,” Mason said. “We became known in town as the ‘Bead Shop Ladies.’ I miss it. I miss the customers, we always knew what was going on in town, and I miss the high school girls who worked with us.”

Suzie Milette (left) works with her daughter Jill (right) in the shop’s original location on Coast Highway. Photo courtesy of Melissa Leigh Amish.
Traders and Hare Krishnas, some from as far away as Africa, would stop by the Bead Shop once a week to sell their highly sought-after beads and corals. The traders would also stop by Virginia Reap’s clothing shop, Townsends, where Billabong now stands on the corner of Thalia and South Coast Highway.

Business was good. Mason, Milette, and Dixon hired local high school girls, some of whom later became Sawdust artists and crafters, to help in the shop. Local Rachel Goberman, now the president of the Laguna Craft Guild, worked with the “Bead Shop Ladies” as did glassblower Nicole McQuaid.

Virginia Mason stands next to some of her beadwork in her Laguna Beach home. Clara Beard/LB Indy

“I remember that the shop never had a cash register, just a drawer,” said Jill Milette, who worked as a manager for her mother, Susie.

The three owners hired Peggy Smith in 1982, moved the store in 1985, and sold the business to Smith not long after.

Just a touch over a half-century old, The Bead Shop is now in the capable hands of Melissa Leigh Amish, who bought the shop from resident Mary Bryne about three years ago. 

Current Bead Shop owner Melissa Leigh Amish (center), stands with managers Kelly Anderson (left) and Yvonne Arellano (right). Clara Beard/LB Indy

Amish, who volunteers for the Assistance League, has lived in Laguna for about 12 years. She said business is booming, with crafters and jewelers (even celebrities) coming in from all over world to buy beads, make repairs or participate in workshops and parties.

“People will come in and say, ‘I wish we still have a store in our area,’” Amish said. “I hear it a lot, which is so sad. But I also hear many great stories from locals who shopped here back in the day. They’ll come in with their grandkids because the place has been here for so long. I always ask people to send me old pictures of their pieces or the shop.”

The Bead Shop is located at 899 South Coast Highway. Learn more about this Laguna Beach landmark at beadshoplaguna.com.

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  1. One of the original string of pearl treasures in our town. I remember the opening of the Laguna Bead Shop in the early 70’s. Took my kids and grands throughout the years. Go! Get lost exploring beads and their origins from all over the world – you’ll find it hard to leave.

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