“No human culture has existed without beads,” says Phil Fischman, standing in the middle of a small room brimming with artifacts he’s collected from across the globe. “Beads have been a part of every culture — poorest to wealthiest, primal to refined,” he continues, now holding a baby dress bearing intricate beadwork designed by a member of the Crow tribe some centuries ago. He walks over to the corner of the room where a camel saddle for African kings is on display, smiles and says, “I’ve been chasing some of these pieces for five years.”
This collection is fit for a museum, but that’s not where you’ll find it. It’s housed in the back of Fischman’s downtown Encinitas shop — in the same room that was once used for kids’ birthday parties. Fischman has spent years transforming the small room, and now, some of its most recent additions have turned heads in the collectors’ world.
Fischman and his wife Valeri Okun, who have owned the store for the last 14 years of its 20-year history, recently acquired a collection of rare Native American beadworks and artifacts, which were profiled by noted historian Cloyd Sorenson in Arizona Highways magazine 40 years ago and are now known among collectors worldwide. Since finding its new home in Encinitas, the collection has garnered attention from Mingei International Museum Director Robert Sidner, who recently came to pour over the collection. Some of the pieces may be lent to the museum for an exhibition, but Fischman says he’s intent on keeping the collection at home in Encinitas.
“This room may not make us any money, but it enriches the lives of those who enjoy it,” he says. And the same goes for the 400-pound amethyst on display near the front of the store, which was mined by one of the couple’s friends in Minas Gerais, Brazil. “They’ll place hands on it, or just spend some time in front of it. Whatever it is they need to do that day.”
Locals are also encouraged to linger, and chat up staff, or Okun — who has a background in psychology and considers interaction with regulars her “happy therapy” — or Fischman, who is the one always wearing a Hawaiian-print shirt and, of course, lots of colorful beads.
“You won’t meet many men who wear more jewelry than their wives,” Okun jokes. And you certainly won’t find many men who make their wives jewelry, like Fischman has been doing for years.
“One night my wife was getting ready and as she put on one of the necklaces I had made for her, she turned to me and said, “Honey, what earrings am I supposed to wear with this?”
With her birthday approaching, Fischman decided at that moment he’d make her a collection of earrings. He spent the next several weeks tiptoeing out of bed so he could work in secret. When he finished, he counted 42 pairs of earrings — but because it was her 43rd birthday, felt it’d only be right to craft her a special 43rd pair.
Had it not been for that last pair of special earrings for his wife, Fischman may have never visited the bead shop, and he may have never learned it was just days from foreclosure after being on the market for years. Though it was a huge gamble, Fischman threw in everything to save the place.
“I don’t believe the universe just throws you coincidences like that,” he says from behind the counter of his small shop — which is very similar to another bead store he used to frequent as a teenager on the New Jersey boardwalk. “I used to daydream and think how cool it would be to one day own a place like that just blocks from the beach.” Now, as owner of Beads, Crystals and More on Encinitas’ Coast Highway, he is indeed living the dream. “And all I had to do was wait forty years for it.”