Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are right around the corner, and if you are looking for a unique gift, Shipwreck Beads just south of Tacoma might be the perfect stop. However, it’s not always easy to know where to start in a store known for having the “World’s Largest Selection of Beads.” With rows and rows of colorful beads and gems, this 20,000-square-foot store might seem intimidating. Fortunately, there are plenty of people on hand to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.
Shipwreck Beads has remained a fixture in the Olympia community for close to 50 years after starting as a small gift shop on Mudd Bay. Making the move to their current location in the Hawks Prairie area – putting the store within closer driving distance of Tacoma – 15 years ago was a big step for the small company, but definitely the right one. Kelsy Vincent, social media coordinator for the business, says, “This is our permanent home, we’re not going anywhere. This is where we live now.” She got her start with the company in high school and has watched the business grow and change throughout the years.
Oddly enough, beads weren’t originally the focus of the store. Yet the original owner’s kids saw how well they were received, and they ran with it, eventually buying the business. These days, it’s not unusual to see RVs from all over the country camped in the parking lot, because it’s difficult to see everything in one day. Shipwreck Beads also has the Galley Deli in the store offering coffee, sandwiches, salads and soups in case you need to refuel during your shopping trip. And although the company has grown a lot since 1969, Kelsy says it still has that small business feel. “Even though our shop is big, we’re still a family-owned business. There’s a lot of friends and family that all work together. We’re a pretty close knit family.”
A jewelry artist herself, this close-knit group is just the right fit for Kelsy. She appreciates the creative process it takes to make a handmade piece, and enjoys helping other people with their projects. A one-of-a-kind gift can have so much more meaning because it comes from the heart, she says. “Anybody can go to the jewelry store and buy jewelry. Handmade takes a little something extra and a little more thought. When you’re able to do that and give it to somebody, you’re giving them a little piece of yourself,” says Kelsy. “It’s more than just a gift because there’s the thought and the time it takes to design it.”
Now if you are anything like me, it’s not easy to just walk into a giant bead store and know what you want to make. That’s where Kelsy says the Shipwreck Beads team can help. “There are a lot of resources and ways to learn to make some really nice jewelry and we’ve got every price point and every skill level.” She recommends taking their Beading 101 class, offered every Sunday for $25. Class participants will learn basic beading techniques and have the opportunity to create a bracelet and a pair of earrings. “If you’re not sure what you’re doing, the class is a really good place to start.”
If you don’t need the hands-on experience, you can still get great tips from Kelsy’s live videos on Shipwreck’s Facebook page every week. These free videos highlight different techniques and usually correlate to upcoming holidays. Regularly posted on Wednesday and Friday, they are an easy way to learn without having to leave your home. Kelsy says it’s important for the company to remain connected to their customers who they’ve come to know over the years.
Shipwreck Beads also has you covered if you don’t have the time or want for the classroom or instructional videos. Kelsy says, “There’s some really quick gift ideas. You don’t even need to know how to bead. You can just buy a single chain throw a charm on it and call it good.” At the store, you will also find an assortment of finished handmade jewelry pieces available for sale.
Because the company takes great pride in bringing amazing beads and gems to their customers, they go above and beyond. In fact, Kelsy just returned from their annual week-long buying trip in Tucson, Arizona. She explains that this huge event is where they pick up the higher end pieces and gemstones to display in the store’s Treasure Cove. And they’ll be up for sale just in time to make that perfect gift for someone.
And it’s really hard to go wrong with jewelry. You don’t have to worry about the perfect fit or if it’s in style. Jewelry is universal and looks great on everyone. “There’s never an inappropriate time to wear jewelry. Whether you’re just making it for yourself or making it to give to someone else, jewelry is always great. Humans have been adorning themselves since the beginning of time. It’s kind of who we are as people to want to express ourselves and this is a great way to do that.”
You can also get a taste of Shipwreck Beads right in downtown Olympia at the Hands On Children’s Museum. On Adult Swim nights, employees volunteer their time hosting the craft area. Here adult “kids” 21 and over can enjoy the museum, have a few drinks and even make some artwork. “We really try to do what we can in the community to try and give back.” Kelsy says they’ve worked hard over the years to cultivate a great relationship between the store and the museum.
8560 Commerce Place Drive NE
Open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.