Kathleen Reeder: From chef to ‘The Bead Lady’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 16, 2014

By Susan Shinn

For The Salisbury Post

CONCORD — “I got it at The Bead Lady!”

That’s Meg Litchfield’s response when friends compliment her on one of her chunky necklaces.

“I love telling people that,” says Meg, who lives in Concord and is a frequent visitor to the store at 01 Union St. North in downtown Concord. She often comes with her friend Charlene Williams.

“It’s unique,” Charlene says of the store’s inventory. “No one else is gonna have it. I love it. It’s so affordable.”

Meg favors necklaces, while Charlene tends to pick out bracelets and earrings.

And yes, there really is a Bead Lady. Her name is Kathleen Reeder, and she’s about to wrap up her 12th year as owner of this full-service bead shop and custom-design jewelry studio.

So how does one become The Bead Lady?

“I guess you want the truth?” Kathleen asks, arranging her long, blonde hair over one shoulder.

Well, yes.

A trained chef, Kathleen soon found that this high-stress, high-pressure life was not conducive to family life.

She and her husband, Justin — who also worked in food service — came to work at UNCC in 1995.

After son Gabriel, now 13, was born, Kathleen started the transition from being a chef to being, well, The Bead Lady. She opened the store in November 2002, and took the leap to full-time beading that February. Her younger son, Wyatt, is now 10. Justin joined her in the business a decade ago. He takes care of ordering beads from all over the world.

“We don’t make a lot of money, but we get to work together and raise our kids together,” Kathleen says.

Over the years, Kathleen has developed a loyal following. Two years ago, she began marketing jewelry for weddings. You can visit that Web site at thebeadlady.us. She also offers the store’s main Web site, thebeadlady.com, as well as memoryflowerbeads.com.

For the past six years, Kathleen has made beads from flowers from weddings or funerals, for keepsake jewelry that’s treasured. She hand-rolls each bead using flowers and a sealant material.

“It took a couple of years to master the process,” Kathleen notes. “Owning a business is about figuring out how you change and adapt.”

Emily Yarbrough of China Grove bought beads from Kathleen after her grandparents’ funerals. Emily, who makes jewelry, fashioned a cross out of beads from her grandmother and grandfather’s funeral flowers. Kathleen made jewelry for Emily’s mother, Debbie Beaver, and her sister, Elizabeth Gillis.

“I wanted to get the beads made so I would have a remembrance of my grandparents,” Emily says. “Mommaw loved to plant flowers, and was always working in the yard. The jewelry to me is priceless. I love every piece I have created. When I wear it, I feel like I am carrying a piece of them with me.”

She continues, “Kathleen was wonderful to work with. She was compassionate and easy-going. She made us feel like we were the most important customers she had.”

Although not a regular churchgoer, Kathleen is an extremely spiritual person, and she prays over each set of memory beads she makes. She has a kind endearment for everyone who comes into her store, calling each person “Hon” or “Love.”

For the past eight years, she and manager Amanda Barrier have made jewelry for the annual Light Up a Life fundraiser for Hospice of Cabarrus County. They just finished this year’s order — some 200 angel-themed pieces — in about three weeks.

And no, she didn’t get stressed out.

“I am a production person by nature,” Kathleen says. “We just do it. It’s retail. It’s either all or nothing.”

She and Amanda have geared up for that all-important fourth quarter — making lots of holiday jewelry.

She has plenty of handmade jewelry at the front of the store, but she also has rooms filled with beads, beads — and more beads. Glass, gemstones, crystals, pearls, metals —every kind of bead you can imagine. You can make your own jewelry, and the store is also a destination for “beaders” who make and sell jewelry.

“Beading is an ebb and flow trend,” Kathleen explains. “It gets hot and heavy, then it backs off and you don’t know what to do.”

It definitely seems hot and heavy at the moment.

The store offers classes for individuals and corporate events alike. It’s a perfect spot for a Girls’ Night Out. Kathleen is also happy to make minor jewelry repairs while customers wait. On this particular day, Charlene has brought in three pairs of earrings, and is thrilled when they are ready in just a few minutes.

“So you wanna make something?” Kathleen asks me.

(This is the point where I freak out, and explain that, while I can write all day long, I’m not the least bit crafty. I can’t paint. I can’t sew. It’s so embarrassing. I tell her about the time that two sweet ladies invited me to attend a mosaic class in Gold Hill. About halfway through making a small picture frame, I decided I would gladly pay whatever the price the frame would have been. I still have the picture frame. It’s not an impressive piece of art, lemme tell you. Still, dear reader, because of you, I tell Kathleen I’ll try it.)

We make our way through the store, picking out turquoise and purple beads to match my outfit. I sit down with a semi-circular bead design board, and begin to line up beads and silver spacers into a grooved area as Kathleen directs me.

In no time, I have finished. Then she hands me a wire and watches while I string the beads. She then puts on the toggle clasp for me and voila! I have just made a bracelet!

“Isn’t that awesome?” she asks. “You did so good!”

(If I can do it, you can do it. And no, it wasn’t the least bit stressful.)

There was one craft that stresses Kathleen out, however: scrapbooking. Years ago, she attempted to make a baby book for Gabriel. The teen’s book has yet to be finished.

But for Kathleen, beading is a different story.

“This allows you to be creative in a very relaxed environment,” she says.

For more information about The Bead Lady, visit the websites listed above or call 704-782-5699. You can also access Kathleen’s etsy online store from her main website. Between now and Christmas, customers receive 20 percent off on jewelry when they bring in at least three canned goods to benefit Cooperative Christian Ministry.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.