“My life pattern has been every 10 or 15 years, a new opportunity presents itself to me,” Karen Kubby said, taking a break from packing up inventory at Beadology.
At various points in her life, Kubby has been a high school science teacher, the executive director of the Emma Goldman Clinic and a member of the Iowa City Council. Fifteen years ago, she and her sister Laurel Kubby bought Beadology, which had recently moved into a building across the street from the Englert Theatre.
That building was sold this year, and the new landlord proposed a large rent hike. Kubby began looking for a new space. She found one on S Clinton Street, next to the Voxman Building. Packing began in November, well before Beadology closed its Washington Street doors for the last time on Nov. 28.
“I guess this is my 15-year challenge,” Kubby said.
Kubby explained she hadn’t intended to become a bead shop owner back in the ’00s, even though she had been beading since she was in sixth grade.
“I’ve made my living through my artwork in some capacity since 1980,” she said. “Beadwork has always been a large portion of the work that I did.”
“I was actually working at the Emma Goldman Clinic at the time and felt the need to do more artwork, and to be around artists and the art world a little more. So I approached our local bead store to say I’d like to teach.”
Kubby was proposing teaching bead weaving techniques, but that soon led to discussion about buying the shop.
Beadology is now the only full-service bead store in Iowa, Kubby said.
“You’d have to go to Chicago, Minneapolis or Kansas City [to find a similar shop] — maybe there’s one in Omaha still,” she said. “We provide a broad array of beads, beading supplies and tools. We have our own line of finished jewelry that’s ready to wear. We do repairs, custom work, private parties and teach classes.”
Bead stores are becoming less common all around the county, Kubby explained. Faced with rising rents, undercut by large online retailers, the shops are facing a variety of challenges as many of their owners are reaching retirement age.
Some owners choose to close when faced with a need to relocate, because moving a bead store is a large challenge; given the small and delicate nature of its stock, the task can seem overwhelming. But the staff at Beadology had help with the move. Customers, many of whom are former students in the store’s classes or use its workspaces for their art projects, volunteered to assist with packing and other tasks.
“I get a little teary-eyed about it,” Kubby said of the support she’s gotten from the community that’s grown up around the store.
This sort of help isn’t unusual at Beadology. Every year, people also volunteer to help sort and count beads and other supplies when it’s time to conduct the annual inventory.
Kubby said she will miss the old building, but is looking forward to certain things in the new space. It will be more energy efficient than the 1880s building on Washington Street, and has a few more amenities.
The new space is about 1,100 square feet smaller than the old building, but Kubby said Beadology will continue to offer all its services and classes.
As winter approaches, she said she’s particularly looking forward to being in a building with a reliable heating system.
“The heating system in this building is old,” Kubby said, sitting in the Washington Street store. “And when it breaks down, you have to worry if there is going to be trouble getting a part, and if it’ll be off too long, because then the pipes might freeze. And if the pipes burst, then you’ve damaged an 1880s building.”
That won’t be an issue on S Clinton Street.
“I’m going to sleep more soundly this winter than I have for a long time,” Kubby said.
Beadology will open in its new location at 355 S Clinton St at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 4.