Good friends morph into good business partners
By Lisa Truesdale | photos by phil mumford
Catherine Phillips and her daughter, Margot Koval, have always had a thing for beads. Years ago, to combat the stress of the corporate world, they spent their free time together at Nomad Design on the Pearl Street Mall, oohing and aahing over the store’s massive selection of beads and exclaiming over their favorites (pearls for Catherine, rhinestones for Margot). They spent so much time there that they became fast friends with the owner, Jake March, who had opened the business with his own mother, Judy, in 1993. They were such good friends, in fact, that when Jake would find himself working alone, he was completely confident in handing the reins to Catherine and Margot if he needed to run errands.
Today, they’re still good friends—and business partners. In 2008, Catherine was ready to move on from her job and find herself a “little retirement business.” She partnered with Jake, they brainstormed ways to improve the store, and they reopened as Nomad Bead Merchants, moving to a new location at Ninth and Walnut streets in 2009. In 2011 Margot followed her mother out of the office and into the bead business, and the three have been happily coexisting (and beading) ever since, because each brings a particular strength to the mix.
Jake is the bead expert. He specializes in the study of ancient and antique beads, and he does most of the buying for the store, bringing in goods from small, family-owned co-ops all over the world. He is often called upon to share his knowledge—like when he recently cut a piece of jade to match a prehistoric specimen, at the request of a CU professor. And he’s not easily stumped, says Catherine. “His knowledge is so impressive. I hear him answer a difficult question, and then just for fun I look it up behind his back, and he’s always right.”
Catherine specializes in the pearls she loves so much, and she’s responsible for many of the “flaming beading emergencies” (as Margot calls them) that the store handles, like the woman who burst into the store just one hour before a gala event, devastated that her pearl necklace had come apart as she was putting it on. “Catherine was able to repair it in time,” says Jake, “and it was a relief, because most people plan their outfits around their beads.”
Margot, the rhinestone expert, says she has “magpie syndrome”—an affinity for shiny objects. “We all have it,” she laughs, “although for some, the shiny object is a Jaguar or a new golf club.” Margot collects vintage glass stones, and she’s one of the hand-selected artists who sells finished jewelry pieces at Adorned, the boutique that the threesome opened next door to Nomad in April 2015. Margot is also the one who helped expand the store’s educational opportunities, like the free Beading Basics classes held every Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the Sunday classes (topics vary) that offer detailed instruction for a reasonable fee.
Go Ahead, Touch Them
Bead enthusiasts of all ages, skill levels and income brackets can find something at Nomad. You can make a simple bracelet for around $3 (parents love this option), or you can invest in one of Jake’s prized beads, like an $1,800 mammoth-ivory piece, or the Italian glass beads from the Lewis and Clark era, kept in a glass display case. The majority of the beads, however, are displayed in little bowls and bins all over the store because, as Catherine explains, “Bead-buying is a very tactile experience. You have to be able to touch them.”
Traditional round beads abound, of course, made of glass, plastic, clay or metal. But you’ll also find unique treasures like figural clay beads from Peru (lion, mermaid, skunk, owl); abalone shells; sea urchin spines; agatized coral; and much more—pretty much anything that someone can drill a hole in. “It’s our goal,” Margot says, “to stock what the hobby stores don’t.”
The Bead Bar, a multilevel display in the center of the store, is what draws most people in, especially the kids. If a bowl happens to get knocked over—with the telltale pitter-patter of beads hitting the floor—the employees don’t sweat it one bit. “Beads just want to be free,” Catherine laughs, “so we chalk it up as a cost of doing business.”
Nomad’s also got all the jewelry-making supplies you’ll ever need, like wire, clasps and leather cords. And tools (like pliers and cutters), although you’re free to complete your project in the store while using the tools scattered around the roomy and inviting worktables. “Some people hang out for days,” Jake says, “and we love it.”
If you’re not feeling crafty, though, don’t worry—just head through the doorway to Adorned and browse the finished jewelry pieces from more than three dozen local artists, including Margot’s rhinestone creations and Catherine’s pearl-studded ones.
Jake says the best part of the business is the people, both the customers and his co-workers. “People want to have fun,” he says, “and we help. There’s a great synergy between the three of us.”
Margot thinks “it’s livelier than we expected, but in a good way.” And Catherine is happy that her “little retirement business” isn’t so little after all.
“It didn’t turn out the way I imagined. But that’s just fine with me.”
Nomad Bead Merchants and Adorned (303-786-9746; www.nomadbeads.com) are located at the corner of Walnut and Ninth Street (1909 Ninth Street, #100). They are open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Free two-hour parking is available on Walnut west of Ninth, and free weekend parking can be found in the St Julien public garage.