Columbus, Ohio USA
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In Pursuit of Beads
World travelers fill Fancy Beads Warehouse with beauty
By Cynthia Rosi
May/June 2012 Issue

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Owners of Fancy Beads Warehouse, Andy Magisano and Sarah Arnett, live the bead picker’s life of travel and adventure. Photo © Larry Hamill

Beads tell stories. Used across the centuries as currency, as comfort and expression, beads also travel – like the people who hunt them.

At an unassuming house on Fifth Avenue in Victorian Village, with an opened-out back room dominated by a chest-high table, its walls hung with sparkling strands of antique and fashion beads, life-long bead buyer Andy Magisano moves with the lean physique and quick study of a seasoned traveler.

He’d settled on the career of stock broker. But two years out of college, Magisano – owner of Fancy Beads Warehouse, a showroom opening to the public with limited hours – met George in 1990, a bead buyer who used to shuttle between the Twin Cities and Bangkok.

Magisano fell in love with the beads, but also the lifestyle of a “bead gypsy.” “The first time I met George was at a kitchen table…. My first sales call was with a tackle box, and my first sale was for $23,” Magisano recalled.

The pair bought an old Hertz rental truck, and outfitted it with pegboard. Magisano drove from state to state east of the Mississippi, throwing open the back of the truck for merchants to pick from his wares, putting 100,000 miles per year on the tires.

Magisano’s first stop in a new town would be the phone booth, flipping through Yellow Pages for “bead store,” scribbling down addresses and telephone numbers, and consulting the local map.

In 1993, Magisano began to make forays to Europe, a pattern that launched a globe-trotting life which would span 35 countries, almost 20 years and counting. An “American picker” in Europe, he bought pre-World War II and post-War beads from workshops abandoned by their craftsmen, a cottage industry that had suddenly expired.

“In Germany, I went to a place that made BMW dashboards,” Magisano recalled. “Off to the side was a little building that had been used, in times past, to make jewelry. We piled up the beads on a table and I bought them by the kilo.”

Other off-the-beaten-path destinations included the basement of a dental office. “The dentist discovered they must have made jewelry [in that building], because there were boxes of it.”

These types of finds kept Magisano busy in Europe. He’d fill up his suitcases – three 75-pound bags – plus the bags hanging off his shoulders, and arrive home loaded down with wares. Then he hit the road selling stock until it was time to fly back to the mother lode.

One of Magisano’s customers was Joyce Griffiths at Byzantium, the Short North bead store open from June 1985 until it closed in the summer of 2010. The building now houses a cigar store after Griffiths’ retirement. Because Magisano worked as a wholesaler to Griffiths, he remained behind the scenes.

“We said we would not compete with her customers,” said Magisano of the Byzantium days. Although Fancy Beads is now open limited hours to the public, both Magisano and his partner Sarah Arnett emphasize they do not consider the business to be a full-blown boutique store that would
typically include advisors and workshops.

“Running a boutique store is a full-time job and we don’t want to do that. It’s a showroom that is open certain hours,” emphasized Arnett, who understands the work that goes into building community around a bead shop.

Arnett met Magisano in 1997, in the days when he sold beads from the back of his van and flew to picking trips in Europe. “Sarah would come over and string beads on the patio, having cocktails on a sunny day,” recalled Magisano.

She began helping him with trade shows a year later, and then started sourcing trips. One of those earliest trips happened to be during a Save Venice association ball in a palace, a scene featured in the novel The City of Falling Angels. The chandeliers above had been lit with candles, and the day’s heat made wax drip down onto the diners. Everyone kept their tuxedo jackets on and didn’t appear to be bothered by either the heat, or the wax.

Arnett kept going on sourcing trips and attending shows with Magisano while she worked toward an MBA from Ohio State University, and held a day job at the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Eventually, Arnett left the Chamber for her own consulting business, and helped launch CMH magazine in 2009, the same year she joined Magisano in his business.

Showroom, warehouse – whatever you want to call it, Fancy Beads is a treasure trove to jewelry designers looking to make fashionable pieces and dramatic accents which they can wholesale to a Macys or Nordstroms. But to compete in that market, Magisano and Arnett work at standardizing their inventory so customers can re-order beads online – a trick in a business that often deals with one-off lots.

Andy Magisano with a mask purchased in Thailand. This mask and other finds are for sale in the Fancy Beads Warehouse.

“We do sketches and have found manufacturers to work [to create] the cad-cam version of what we sketch,” explained Arnett. “We might have that with a manufacturer in Bangkok, so it’s a business trip for us.”

A bead picker’s life is about the travel, and the adventures that come with it. If Magisano and Arnett wanted to start a blog, they’d have no problem finding stories to post. “The only travel we do outside of Victorian Village is on a plane,” quipped Magisano. And those planes take them everywhere on the planet.

“Once I went to Vietnam with my cousin [Anthony Codispoti, who was in the business for five years,] and we’d heard about people drinking cobra’s blood,” Magisano recalled. “So we asked our guide, and he took us to a restaurant. We went round the back and there was a kid about 20. He reached under the table and pulled out a sack that’s moving – it was full of cobras.

“He pulled a snake out of the bag and held it up by the head, chopped it off and drained the blood into a rice wine. We drank the blood and wine, and then they fried up the rest of the cobra to eat.”

In India, Magisano said, they take visitors on plenty of temple tours. “We got off to see a temple and they’re trying to take us in the temple, and I see these two guys doing the thing with the cobra in a basket.” So, he said with a mischievous smile, he left the tour and joined the men sitting on the ground.

After all, one temple begins to look much like another, but a cobra in a basket was just like the movies. “I sat down between [the men] and they said I could pet the cobra. They’d milked it. When I asked if they were sure it was safe, they said ‘pretty sure.’ So I pet the cobra’s head.”

Magisano and Arnett’s work is also their lifestyle choice. “When we’re not at the warehouse or traveling, we’re on our porch, in the garden, at the North Market, attending neighborhood festivals or concerts, walking to Arena Grand – or in and out of stores, galleries and restaurants throughout the Short North,” said Arnett.

“If we can do it in the neighborhood, we choose to support the local businesses. Of course, that’s also convenient. We get all of our services here too – hair, skin, bikes, coffee, denim.”

Fancy Beads is interested in exploring partnerships with local jewelry designers, with the possibility of consignment. Jewelry designers can also post to Fancy Beads’ Facebook page when they use products from Fancy Beads. They will also post links to the designers’ Etsy sites or Web pages.


Fancy Beads Warehouse is located at 74 West Fifth Avenue. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. or by appointment. Call 614-294-5277 or visit


© 2012 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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