Milton-Freewater 'divas' draw bead on business

Timing was everything to Milton-Freewater women who started their bead shop.

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Julie Culjak, left, and Geri Honn framed through one of their beaded necklaces at 3 Divas Beads in Milton-Freewater. October 21, 2011

MILTON-FREEWATER -- "Let's open a bead shop!"

Great idea, but can it work?

Well, it's been working for more than three years for Three Divas Beads at 6101/2 N. Main St. in Milton-Freewater.

The idea to open the store popped up during a conversation Julie Culjak, Geri Honn and Pat Dirr were having at a beading class in fall 2007. Culjak said ideas are always tossed around the beading table and this one really blossomed, with the store opening in April 2008.

The timing was right. Culjak and her husband moved here in 2007 from Germany when her husband got a new job.

"Of course coming over I had to give up my job, so when we got here I was footloose and fancy free," she said. She then took a jewelry class taught by Honn at the former Suncatcher, an art shop. Dirr was one of the students.

At that time they could only get beads online, which isn't quite the same as examining them in their hands before buying.

"It is absolutely tactile, you have to touch the beads and you can see if the colors actually match what you have in mind," Culjak said.

By having their own shop, she said, "We could get beads, meet people and have classes. I really thought it was just fantasy talk."

Culjak said she was shocked when, fairly soon, the others said they'd found a place for the store. There was the initial startup outlay, but there really wasn't a lot of fear.

"I was nervous handing out the checks at first, but I also was thinking how many times do you miss a great opportunity," she said. "Here's a great chance to own my own business. To do that you have to put your money where your mouth is."

Geri Honn said one thing then led to another.

"There was definitely a market for it," she said. "It was a great idea, we had no written business plan but we agreed on the look of the place. We also knew we'd do workshops."

"We put the (April 7 opening) date up on the wall to aim for," Honn said. "If you keep putting it off, you'll keep putting it off."

"We didn't have a lot of stuff; there was a lot of wall showing," Culjak added. "But we opened and people were coming in."

As time went by, Culjak and Honn bought out Dirr's share of the operation but kept the name Three Divas.

The business prospers because of the number of income streams. Sales of supplies, along with classes and workshops, special orders and repairs all add to the bottom line.

The repair aspect of the business was added immediately, out of necessity because people kept coming into the store asking if they could fix broken pieces of jewelry.

The store features colorful, sparkling as well as earth-tone beads displayed on antique furniture and glassware props.

Honn and Culjack already expanded their workshop next door into what used to be a barbershop. They also are considering expanding book and traditional bead-weaving sections.

The holidays account for 30 percent of their annual businesss, Honn said. Many jewelry makers come in for supplies to craft items for seasonal shows. At the same time, more people come in for classes to preparing for making their own Christmas gifts.

Fun is a big factor in the business.

"It's a low key, friendly atmosphere, not hard sell. We don't like that," said Culjak.

The owners develop a rapport with their customers and offer their expertise. They are now branching out into making wedding jewelry, matching the bride's colors and style.

In the years since they opened with minimal merchandise, they've accumulated quite a bit more.

"We'll find out if there is a stage where there's too much," said Honn.

"We're not too far off," Culjak added.

Karlene Ponti can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com

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