Spokane Journal of Business

Feeling the need for beads

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Feeling the need for beads
-—Photo by Treva Lind
Glass Gods co-owner Tim Bohr says the Spokane Valley shop makes about 75 percent of the pieces the shop sells.

When Tim Bohr gets close to the flame, he creates works of art at his Glass Gods studio in Spokane Valley.

Owned by Bohr and his wife Lori, the glassblowing studio creates hand-blown pieces ranging from colorful beads to custom orders such as glass wedding cake toppers. Within their business, located at 2302 N. Argonne, they have two strong draws: glassblowing lessons and the selling of hundreds of handmade beads and pendants that people often refashion into jewelry for their own use or resale.

He and his wife are the only employees, but Bohr works with interns who learn on the job to create pieces that can be sold in the store, and they help walk-in clients. His wife handles the finances, advertising, website, and marketing, and he runs the studio as artist and teacher.

While Bohr enjoys growing his passion for teaching others the glassblowing art, Glass Gods derives most of its revenue from wholesale and retail sales of beads and other hand-blown glass items.

"We supply those beads to stores and individuals, and a lot of moms," he says. "I like moms. They use the beads to make their jewelry, and they can resell it."

Bohr says Glass Gods could have the largest hand-blown bead selection in the Spokane area. The beads come in vibrant colors and designs, with a starting price of around $2 a piece. Most sell for between $2 and $12, but some are priced as high as $60.

Glass Gods also sells some retail items in the front of the store, about 75 percent being pieces they make and the rest from other sources. That retail inventory includes glass making supplies, jewelry, hemp candles, and glass art. Quite often, Bohr creates custom pieces such as special goblets. Another example of a special order is someone's name in a glass bead.

"We like wearable, functional art or something you can use, like a spice jar," Bohr says. "We strive for perfection, because we want it to last for lifetimes."

One creation Bohr is proud of should be around for many Spokane generations to enjoy—the glass eyes that artist Susan Kim asked him to create for a stained-glass tiger displayed in the lobby of the Davenport Hotel Tower. He experimented until he could get the right effect.

"Susan asked me to do the eyes and they're three-dimensional. If you see it, the eyes will follow you around the room," he says.

He says he also has had customers ask for a more unusual custom piece—urn beads, which are used to carry a loved one's ashes after cremation. He creates the urn bead as a hollow vessel—worn like a pendant—into which the ashes can be placed after the small urn is complete. A family may ask for multiple urn beads, for example, after a grandparent dies so each family member can keep a portion of the ashes.

"It's not something I came up with, but people ask for it," Bohr says.

The shop ships orders around the country, with customers in such states as Montana, California, Nevada, and Florida. Bohr often gets such requests after participating in the Mom's Weekend arts and crafts fair at the Washington State University. Because parents visit from around the country, Bohr will get requests after moms return home.

Customers on average spend between $5 and $35 in his store. "We get a lot of repeats. As a mom-and-pop place, you have to. Word of mouth is very important."

Glass Gods also gets many clients who first come through the door for glassblowing lessons. Bohr guesses he's taught the art to at least 100 students. "I've lost count." He runs a couple of group lessons a week and individual hourly lessons to two or three people a day. A two-hour beginner class that costs $100, for example, lets students explore the art of bead making with an introduction to torch work and creation of a handful of beads to take home.

Bohr says glassblowing studios and glass art shops remain prevalent in the Seattle area, where he first learned his craft in 1997 and started selling beads to a shop in Pike Place Market. He lived in Lynnwood, Wash., when he first saw someone glassblowing in nearby Edmonds and was instantly hooked.

"Flames were roaring and music blaring. It was awesome. You have to be a little bit of a pyromaniac to do this," he says. "You have to embrace the flame, but be careful; she'll bite you sometimes, so you have to respect her."

Inspired to learn glassblowing art, he took a loan of $3,400 against his life insurance policy to buy equipment and a torch, which involves a stationary flame and the glass is manipulated in that flame. He sought experts for knowledge. Before long, he says, he was a starving artist and started making as many beads as he could to sell.

Technology has caught up with the industry since he started, he adds, when in early days glassblowers had access to about eight colors to make their products. Now, he says, there are hundreds. The industry also has developed better torches, tools, and more comfortable safety goggles.

Bohr later moved to Pullman as an artist and teacher, and he met his wife at WSU. He had started Glass Gods in 1998, and when he and Lori moved to Spokane around 2001, they started an operation here, at first out of a garage. They operated for three years in a commercial house near Trent Avenue and Fancher Road and then moved to a 3,000-square-foot studio on North Dick Road near Trent for five years. Their move to the smaller 1,500-square-foot Argonne site just over a year ago gives the business better visibility, he says.

"The walk-in traffic is better here," he says.

Bohr hopes he can grow his passion to teach glassblowing. As a bigger picture, he wants to partner one day with a community college to provide courses. Additionally, he'd like to expand Glass Gods if additional space at the Argonne site opens up.

"Business here is three times as much as it was at the Dick and Trent studio," Bohr says. "We could use the space, but we're happy here. We might expand, but we'll stay."

Treva Lind
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