“It’s an eclectic mix of local artists that’s just amazing to behold.” That’s the enthusiastic response I got from shop owner Carol Ellison when I asked her for the store’s elevator speech. Located in the Pioneer Mall since 2014, Carol aka The Bead Lady has been creating for most of her life. And for those who have never visited the store don’t let the bead part of the name fool you. The emphasis is definitely on gallery.
The short story is: while running Windsong Marina near Simoom Sound out in the Broughton Archipelago Ellison started selling her beadwork at the gift shop. That’s where she sold her first beaded hummingbird back in 2000. Once the marina sold Ellison moved to Shawl Bay and opened a gallery of her own. Eventually making the move to Port McNeill in 2014, Ellison settled into the old Pacific Coastal Airlines office. Admitting, “people just weren’t going by my place that much,” Ellison picked up and relocated to her current location. She says, “here I get everybody. Not just my old-time clients that are boaters but I get visitors that are driving past. It’s the best exposure area in town.”
Ellison may have started off selling her own beadwork but soon branched out carrying other artist’s work. Fifteen different artists are now exclusive to the store. Over time the store has morphed into carrying a few small antiques and eventually expanded into ladies clothing as well. Wish I could come up with a flashier cliché but you really have to see it to believe it. The gallery includes: ceramic & glass art, mosaics, First Nations carvings and woven hats, teas, soaps & lotions and jewelry.
Ahh the jewelry. Rings and bracelets and hundreds of pairs of earrings. An explosion of sparklies. Buy them ready-made or poke through the drawers full of beads to make your own. Trying to get enough people together for classes didn’t work out but Ellison kindly offers, “if someone wants to learn beading I will teach them.”
Funding from Community Futures of Mount Waddington has allowed Ellison to buy stock and to expand her line of clothing. Colourful flowing dresses, tops, leggings, wraps and scarves. Stylish and comfortable clothing for every day or a special occasion.Carol keeps a wish list for customers if you’re not sure what to buy your special someone.
According to Ellison loyalty is the number one reason customers select her store over others. “We try to make the customer’s visit enjoyable. The whole ambience is to make you feel relaxed and comfortable.” She adds, “just a small thing like the fireplace being turned on makes a difference.” Admitting with a smile that there’s no heat coming from the fireplace — people just want to sit there.
There are challenges to being the owner/operater of a small shop in a small town. Ellison has a friend and fellow artist who steps in to take care of the store occasionally but the feisty senior vows she’ll run the business until she’s not able to anymore. Ellison adds, “with the economic state the way it is on the North Island and sitting afraid of the softwood tax and what it’s going to do to the logging industry — people are holding their money close.” Another challenge is people spending their money down island or on the internet. Stating very matter of factly, “shop local and support your local businesses or one day we’ll wake up and find there are no local businesses left.”
Things you may not know about Carol Ellison & The Bead Lady’s Gallery. She donates to local groups…a lot !! Whether it’s a purse or hand crafted jewelry Ellison does what she can to help local groups and their fundraising efforts. And in a previous life she was master florist for 27 years specializing in wedding flowers.
Slow down next time you’re walking by the shop. Ellison’s creativity includes the ever changing window display. There’s something fresh and new for each occasion or sometimes display ideas just pop into her head, that she thinks “are funny or would be cool.” Just wait until Christmas !! The store goes all out for Christmas. A few hints – trees, teddies and a train. You’ll just have to wait.
Bead Lady’s Gallery
15-1705 Campbell Way (Pioneer Mall), Port McNeill