Susan Stewart took ‘total leap of faith,’ and has operated Beads by the Bay for 17 years now

By Blake Ashley Frino-Gerl

Susan Stewart didn’t know early on what her career path would entail as an adult. For many, that is the case —switching gears from one career to a completely different one. Stewart earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from UC Santa Cruz and then an early childhood teaching credential from Cabrillo College. She had a variety of teaching jobs but also worked in construction, as well as archaeology and cultural resource management. 

Stewart moved to Morro Bay in 1988 and experienced different jobs. Then in September of 2006, she bought Beads By the Bay downtown. The business was owned by Sue Walker, who had a second store in Cambria and decided it was too challenging to run both of them. 

She says this was a time “when the economic downturn led to fewer jobs in construction which meant archaeology and house painting were less lucrative,” she says. Walker, whose last name is Stewart’s maiden name, made it a “bit of serendipity” for her to buy the business, she explains. “It was a total leap of faith, as I had never had the intention of owning a brick-and-mortar business,” she says.

Fortunately, Beads By the Bay “was a turn-key business as far as the beads went,” Stewart says. Former business partner Penny Harrington “introduced me to Helen Edwards, and I eventually offered the garden space to Helen to develop a business with succulents and garden related items,” she adds. Penny eventually left to open her own shop with more space. Yet, Stewart says, “Helen has really grown her part of the business to include pottery, air plants, garden miniatures, and crystals.” In addition to the shop, they offer classes that vary from making jewelry to garden features. 

While many tourists go down to the Embarcadero, which Stewart feels “is considered the lifeblood of the town,” she resonates with the notion that “downtown Morro Bay feels like the soul of the community — the older buildings, the big trees, the place where locals come to hang out and shop, where business owners know each other and hang out on the sidewalks to chat if they get a breather in between customers.”

Stewart also knows most of the businesses and their owners nearby. She sees the locally and single-operated businesses come to grips with the “tangible sense of belonging.”

Stewart enjoys being part of the community and finds how the shop relates so well to the town. “Morro Bay has a long tradition of artists and artisans, and even now a surprising number of businesses that support and embrace the arts!” She exclaims. Shops like Beads By the Bay keep the arts within the community alive for all of us enjoy and appreciate. 

She hopes to see more stores that share that ideal. 

“I like to help people who love crafting for their own joy (or to provide extra income) develop new skills and embrace their creativity,” she says. 

In addition, she says, “the Central Coast is also a great place for gardening and outdoor activities, so the garden side of the business is a perfect fit.” She finds that the store attracts various people of all ages, both locals and visitors, as well as a lot of college students and hopes that also will help other businesses around them thrive.

As for the future, she would also like to “coordinate a few more people to teach classes” in the store for hands-on learning and creating. “So the goal is just to keep on keeping on,” she declares.