A little sad today…

St. Louis’s Earth Wind and Bead, the little bead shop that could, is no more. The shop started out in Crestwood Plaza, moved to the South County Center for five years and finally died after a handful of months in the artsy South Grand area.

I have a lot of mixed feelings on this — I was a customer of EWB both before and after I was an employee. In addition to gemstones, the shop sold incense, bundled sage, lamps, Buddhist art and iconography, Native American art and iconography, toys, animal totems and figurines, knives, glass pipes and, most notoriously, sword replicas and air soft rifles.

The shop had a very diverse clientele which was part of its appeal. I bought my first boot knife there almost ten years ago. After I got my Bachelor’s degree and moved back to St. Louis, EWB was the first seasonal job I had — selling jewelry (pre-made AND pieces designed by the employees) and working behind the sword counter. If someone decided to buy our replica of the Ultra Violet sword or the sword of Gryffindor (forged in what my night manager, Michael, called “butter knife steel”), I had to issue a lengthy warning to the person buying it about how they could not take the sword out and carry it around the mall. And if they elected to fight imaginary zombies and/or ninjas in their backyard and their blade broke off at the hilt, they could not bring the broken pieces back to us crying and looking for a refund. The warning for the people purchasing air soft rifles was even more fun, as I described to them the consequences of removing the orange tip from the otherwise detail perfect replicas of AR-15s and various assault weapons (i.e. potentially getting shot by the city police if they were spotted playing with them outdoors). It brought out the jovial sadist in me as well as the creative sales artist.

After I left the store and moved onto various day jobs and freelance projects, Rachel, my former day manager, suggested I design my own jewelry pieces to wear on job interviews. My first project was a black pearl necklace with a mother of pearl butterfly charm and my projects went on from there (from jade necklaces to wrist malas and more). I continued shopping at EWB, because it was one of the few places in the area where I could buy semi-precious gemstones by the strand for a good price and be sure that the sales staff knew how to sort their jade from their fluorite, their lapis from their sodalite and could tell me the various metaphysical meanings of each.

Sadly, that customer assurance went into sharp decline in the shop’s last few years. The shop changed owners a few different times and the Cyclorama of underpaid sales reps included people whose decidedly unfriendly dispositions neither drew in new customers, nor encouraged regular customers to stick around. The expertise the shop had previously prided itself on also dropped off. The last time I was there, they were selling turquoise-dyed howlite as real Tibetan turquoise nuggets for $7.95-9.95 a piece. I didn’t go back.

The shop is where I got started in many ways and I never wished it ill. I was actually quite excited to see it turn up in South Grand, a neighborhood comparable to the Lakeview area in Chicago with its both affluent and bohemian neighbors, ethnic and religious diversity, where I thought the things that made the shop so unique would be appreciated and let it thrive. I guess I was wrong. According to the website, the last owner retired. When I drove past the place in November over Thanksgiving break, there was a “Store Closing” sign in the window. When I drove past again last week, the place was empty. Whether she’ll open up again somewhere else, in another mall or in another strip somewhere in the city is anybody’s guess. I haven’t heard and don’t expect to.

R.I.P. Earth, Wind and Bead.

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~ by blackmoodcraft on January 4, 2012.

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