Off the Beading Path was originally supposed to stay in the alley behind its current location, where it had its beginning. But one day a customer advised owner Denise Bush that “you don’t want to be off the beaten path," and a light bulb flickered.
She had yet to settle on a name and decided on “Off the Beading Path,” and thus began the business, whose storefront is prominently located on Mill Street, just next to Town Hall.
When customers step into the store, many brilliant colors and natural stones greet their eyes. The display includes several baskets of Lucite bought from a trunk show, and walls lined with vast varieties of gems, seed beads, pearls and glass beads. Even from the outside, Off the Beading Path turns heads. Walking by, a little girl cries out to her mom, “Look, pretty beads!” Shortly after a group of visiting women express the same childlike wonder.
Denise calls Off the Beading Path “a grocery store for beaders." For a crafter of any kind, but particularly beaders- it is heaven on earth. There are over 33 kinds of gemstones, including jasper, jade and kyanite, freshwater pearls, glass quartz and toho seed beads.
A store created by a woman with a love for beading, for individuals with a passion for beads, it offers something for everyone, suiting an eclectic range of tastes- from feminine, to Native American, to gothic. To Denise, there is nothing better than the excitement of a customer, squealing in delight, that they had exactly what they were looking for.
Denise grabbed one strand of brilliant turquoise beads hanging from the wall. “Some people think this is a necklace!” she said with a grin.
While the store offers a wide selection of beads for crafters, artisans, and beaders to choose from—very few sample necklaces adorn the store. A mess of thousands of varieties of beads are waiting to be claimed.
Never beaded before? “I teach classes to anyone who can sit long enough,” Denise said. The classes are not age specific. People of all ages are welcome. Beading is a craft that can take extreme skill and concentration to master, but is easy to learn and a soothing activity for recreation.
“Beading is therapy,” said Denise , who had previously gone to grad school for counseling. “Your worries start to melt away as you connect with the beads you are using.” It satisfies the artistic desire to create something out nothing.
The store started in June 2008. Denise whose husband is retired from the military, settled in Occoquan after years of moving around. After spending some years in Occoquan, she knew this was the perfect place to begin a beading store. To her, there was no better place to attract a diverse and engaged clientel then in historic Occoquan.
The store did not have trouble starting up, despite the recession, since it filled a niche for beaders. Customers with a passion for the hobby started to stream in—and within a few months, Denise hired her associate Susan to help out. This was Denise’s first experience with her own business and she loves being her own boss and being connected to the other merchants in town.
Not always a beader, Denise has always been involved in crafts. After she took up cross-stitch, she started to incorporate beads into cross-stitching. As her fondness for beads grew, she continued to bead without the cross-stitch.
When asked which beads are her favorite, a look of joy spread across her face. “Everything is my favorite," she said. She prefers stones with color and irregularlaties. “I am not a diamond girl,” she said, showing her ruby engagement ring. Denise is not fond of stones just because they are perfect or pricey, but she finds beauty and depth in their imperfections.
The shop also offers jewelry repair and redesign. One customer came in with her grandmother’s beads that did not quite work for her as a necklace. Denise took it apart, redesigned and rebuilt a necklace for her that kept the meaning and memories in place- a newly re-created, recycled variation of the past. Denise’s services and individual help reaches customers, at a personal and authentic level.
Off the Beading Path features "Bead of the Month." May's special is any emerald and chrysoprase bead strands for 20% off.
Classes are offered every Saturday and Sunday of May with a Mixed Metal class offered on Memorial Day. Learn more at their website.