Caravan Beads began life in March 1991 on the sun porch of Barry and Jean Kahn’s house. Started by Jean Kahn and Carolyn Mitchell, the initial goal of the business was to enable its founders to buy beads and findings at wholesale prices while sharing their enjoyment of making beaded jewelry. The orginal ‘store’ was only open on Saturdays and the inventory lived in a couple of suitcases. Despite a total lack of advertising, Caravan Beads grew and by the end of summer had a new home in a second-floor office space. Following a successful first holiday season, the business relocated again in April of 1992.
In the summer of 1994, Caravan Beads of Chicago became our first licensee and we began to assist in opening new bead stores around the country. That year also marked our entry into mail-order wholesale. The web site went on-line in October, 1995. One month later we received our first shipment from Miyuki Co., Ltd. (developer of the incomparable Delica Beads®).
Early in 1999, it became clear that the mail order business was going to outgrow its quarters again. After a couple of months of searching, we purchased a suitable building. Remodeling the inside took another 2 1/2 months, but the wait was worth it and that warehouse served us well till 2002, when we again found ourselves with more beads than space to house them. After months of searching we found a new building, this one large enough to house both our retail store and the mail order business under one roof. After a lot of remodeling and a move which involved transporting about 50 tons of stuff, we were in our new home.
In October 2006 we again found ourselves needing more room. We thought about moving again but the prospect of transporting 70-80 tons of beads, equipment, shelving, etc. was really too horrible to imagine. Instead, after lengthy planning, lots of meetings with planners, our architect, approvals from the city, etc., and about eight months of construction, an additional 12,000 sq ft of new retail store and expanded warehouse space was wrapped around three sides of the original building. And it’s great! We’ve been gradually expanding into the new warehouse but there’s plenty of room left for more beads, so for now I am confident that we have enough empty space for many years of additional expansion.
Of course I thought that we were all set before, too…
Here are a couple of photos from early 2007 showing the old parking lot and the beginning of its transformation into our new retail store. I salute our faithful customers who kept coming in spite of every possible inconvenience including a period when our former parking lot was either filled with heavy machinery or torn apart. Undeterred, they parked on local side streets and walked to the store to get their beads.