Picture this: shelves and tables lined with containers, all of which are filled to the brim with beads and baubles and trinkets. Multiply that by five rooms, and there you have it: Bead It, a place where you can truly get lost with your inner child.
If you know just one thing about Bead It’s owner, Ashley Schor, it’s this: She is absolutely driven by her passion. She never stops learning, constantly challenging and forcing herself to confront her own reality and shift her perspective, and she has managed to put every ounce of that mentality into perfecting her store. Both Bead It and Schor seem to shift before your very eyes: The energy of the woman and the space is ever changing. But there is also order to the chaos, a sense of balance in her very old soul that shines when you open up conversation. Schor is a force to be reckoned with, and her creativity and love for what she does has made Bead It a true Austin staple.
Schor has been a businesswoman all her life, and her love for art was planted at a young age. Her mother and father divorced when she and her sister were very young, but her mother found new love and remarried to a man Schor sees as her father figure. He had always led a nomadic life, so the family packed up and joined him on the road.
“Sandy was a jeweler and my mom is a writer, so we lived this artist-nomad life. We created this really strong nuclear family. They bought an Avis bus, gutted it out, put a bed in the back and we lived in that bus with his jewelry, traveling from flea market to flea market,” Schor said.
Schor’s mother homeschooled the two girls, and they lived like this for a few years before the family settled down in Dallas. Schor attended a magnet school for the arts and studied theater for her sophomore, junior and senior years of high school. She applied and was accepted to more than 13 colleges to study theater, but a high-school romance kept her from pushing herself to leave. She ended up at the University of North Texas, but she found the theater program to be lackluster at best.
“I had been in this tense drama program where we had learned iambic pentameter. I was already versed in Shakespeare. College just didn’t push me enough back into the art, so I dropped out of school for a year, and I ended up having this kind of spiritual awakening.”
This period of Schor’s life was absolutely formative. After the tragedy of September 11, she really got a feel for how precious and short life truly is. She moved from Denton to Austin and began to push herself outside her comfort zone, exploring her spirituality in new ways.
“This set a foundation for spirituality in my life. Then I became kind of crazy about it. I wanted to go out into the world and tell people the things that I knew—that religions were just these dogmatic boxes that everyone was living in, and that if they just opened their eyes, that there was so much more that we were missing by staying in those boxes.” Schor explained.
Her parents noticed a marked change, and in an attempt to bring her back to center, Schor’s father encouraged her to start up a business. By this point, he and her mother had opened up a warehouse outside Dallas, where they sold antiques and jewelry. He put her in touch with two people he knew in the jewelry business, and Schor set up shop in a little store on Lamar, right across the street from where Bead It now stands.
“I set up a table and I put beads into little bags and sold them, two for $5. I didn’t know anything about the jewelry or bead business,” Schor explained, smiling at how far she has come.
Around the same time, she began to look into going back to school. Her heart settled on St. Edward’s University, a small liberal arts school located in South Austin, just a few blocks away from her little market on South Lamar. Schor’s spiritual awakening had been tempered, but the flame was rekindled by Dr. Edward Shirley, a St. Edward’s legend, who became her mentor. At the time of the writing of this piece, he had recently passed away. Schor had tears in her eyes as she described the force Dr. Shirley had been in her life.
“He’d come into class and announce that he was going to be a Buddhist for the day, or an atheist. He taught you how to challenge yourself and your spiritual beliefs. Challenge yourself, challenge all those belief systems that you have, rattle them, shake them, look at them, examine them closely. Once you think you have it figured out, you don’t. If you pinpoint it down and you say ‘this is what I believe,’ you’re missing the point,” Schor said.
And this is how Schor operates—by looking at everything through a child’s eyes, but simultaneously not forgetting to enjoy her life. She reached a crossroads after graduating and was forced to make the choice between staying in academia or throwing herself into her business and continuing to learn more things on the side.
She chose the latter and hasn’t looked back. She bought and fixed up the current Bead It location almost single-handedly.
“I pay for everything out of pocket—I don’t put anything on credit—so I did two rooms by hand and then waited until I had money, and then I did my third room, and then waited, and then did my fourth and fifth rooms finally. You just kind of make it work,” Schor explained.
At the ripe young age of 31, she has done just that: made it work. She painted the walls, she put in the flooring, she handpicked much of the merchandise.
“I’m a big learner, and I think that’s what my business model is kind of based on. That’s who I am. My business has gone through a lot of bad, weird, hard transitions, but Google has taught me everything I need to know about running a business,” Schor said.
On Coming Out
One thing she wasn’t able to Google, though, was how—if at all—she should share with her customers that she is a lesbian. Schor isn’t necessarily defined by her sexuality, but it definitely plays a very big role in her life.
“I hate boxing myself into this ‘I’m a lesbian’ category,” Schor said, staying true to label-hating form. “Now, have I been with women for the past ten years? Yeah. I think I’ve met the woman of my dreams, Katie, so I think that’s done,” she added, with a cheeky grin.
“Every other person I’ve ever been with has always seen my passion as a little bit of a threat, a little bit as ‘Whoa, why is she acting like that?’ and Katie (Tull) embraces it. She goes there with me. She disarms me, and she makes me feel comfortable being in my own skin and being my own self. She’ll be reacting in a certain way, and I’ll put on my mask, my Ashley mask, and she just calls me on it. Every time, like, ‘Stop doing that, be genuine.’”
The two have known each other for years, albeit as acquaintances. They really fell for one another during the recent rallies at the Texas State Capitol in the midst of the emotional debate over the omnibus abortion bill that, despite weeks of protests, was eventually passed into law. Schor and Tull reconnected at the rallies at the Capitol, where Schor spent a great deal of time.
“Katie and I ended up doing this march together, and it was like this weird…first date, but not really. We ended up spending a lot of time together, just the two of us talking. There was something happening there between us, and something powerful was happening inside of me. It was just so empowering being down there. I found my calling. All of a sudden, I felt like I was alive,” Schor explained.
While her relationship is just budding, Schor has big plans for the future, as she refuses to let the power she felt at the Capitol fade. She was so influenced by the rallies and the people she met that she decided, almost on a whim, to take the LSAT, though she has no hard-set plans yet for what purpose these test scores will serve for her.
For now, she’s bringing the focus back to herself, to her wants and needs and desires, and channeling that positive energy into her store and back into the community.
“The most important aspect of this job is that I get to be a part of the communal artistic force here in Austin. I get to teach people how to teach people to push themselves creatively in ways they didn’t think they could,” Schor explained.
“I like to think of my store as a community center in a lot of ways. Come and just bring whatever you’ve got. If you’ve got kids, if you’re 90 years old and you need to repair some old earrings, you’re going through a hard time, you’re going through a happy time, you’re in love and you and your partner are picking out little love tokens for each other, we get to see everybody because it’s an art space, and that is absolutely the reason I continue doing this.”