Brothers Mitch, David and Bernie Lawitz have more than DNA in common; they all share the same passion – beads. If the name rings a bell, it’s because Mitch and Bernie were previous owners of the legendary Beads Galore in Tempe, and David worked in the family business for 20 years. Their enthusiasm for beads still sizzled, and since then, all three have struck out on their own. Mitch and Bernie have two thriving stores; Mitch’s Beads in Gilbert and Bernie’s Beads in Mesa and David went on to create the Arizona Bead Company, an online store.
A leading authority on ethnic and vintage beads, Bernie is a walking Wikipedia on African trade, rare and collectible beads. Working with his son, Alex, and daughter, Hannah, Bernie loves to educate his shoppers on the story behind the beads. “Shoppers are stunned when they find out some of my beads are 5,000 years old,” he says. Shopping at Bernie’s is like being immersed in a National Geographic magazine. Old silver beads, turquoise, prayer necklaces and antique African trade beads dot the tables and walls, along with rare Ethiopian crosses and old Venetian glass beads. “I have beads that cost five cents and some that cost several thousand dollars,” says Bernie. “We have high quality, very unique things from around the world.”
Mitch’s Beads also carries a wide and eclectic array of beads, but the focus is primarily semi-precious stones, such as lapis, tiger eye, onyx and more. Pendants, freshwater pearls, Czech glass, cubic zirconia and a large selection of chain and jewelry findings round out the menu. Also, the store carries copious amounts of charms that beg to be sifted through. “One of our big lures is our classes,” says Lisa, Mitch’s wife. “Our employee Trish does free, one-on-one demonstrations with customers Wednesday through Saturday. Our other employee Memo, is our jewelry designer. Customers frequently get inspired by the designs he conjures up and want to recreate them themselves.”
The store also provides photoengraving. “Charms to You,” a separate company started by Lisa and her daughter, Amber, enables gold, silver and stainless steel to be etched with pictures of people, pets and more – even ultrasounds!
“The whole business is built on imagination and creativity,” says Mitch. “It empowers you and makes you feel better when you wear something you created. It’s a euphoria you can’t explain.”
According to Lisa, Mitch is like a kid in a candy store, when he shops for beads. “His eyes and whole face light up,” says Lisa. “He always wants to buy more; he is always looking for the unusual.”
Mitch, Bernie and David all stand on the shoulders of their father, Norman Lawitz, the original owner of Beads Galore, who truly embodied the American dream. After the Lawitz family moved to Phoenix from Long Island in 1973, Norman was looking for a new venture. He opened a small costume jewelry store for a short time, but it wasn’t the success he envisioned. Things changed dramatically when he rolled the dice with a $136 bead investment of mainly turquoise, silver and heishi (shell) beads.
The business grew rapidly, but the caveat was that customers began coming to the Lawitz house at all hours of the day and night to buy beads. “Before long, our entire house was flooded with beads,” says Mitch. “We had no life. My mom finally gave my dad an ultimatum; it was her or the beads. Mom won out, and Beads Galore was born.”
For 30 years, the store was a magnet for beading aficionados. This colossal 6,000 square-foot store attracted customers from all over the Valley. The knowledgeable and friendly staff were the store’s hallmarks, along with selection and inspiration. When the store closed in 2016, it was no surprise that customers were visibly shaken and saddened. “People actually cried, and wanted us to sign tee shirts,” says Bernie.
The closing of the store did not diminish the brother’s love for beads, however, and the passion of Norman Lawitz lives on. Customers of Beads Galore can still expect the same expert, professional service from Mitch, Bernie and David.
Mitch’s Beads is on 854 E. Williams Field Road in Gilbert (mitchsbeads.com) and Bernie’s Beads is on 1245 W. Guadalupe Road #B-1 in Mesa (berniesbeads.com). Visit Arizona Bead Company at arizonabeadcompany.com.