Beads (and Things) in Athens’ Backyard

When other little girls were playing with dolls, Jo Merkle played with beads.

“They all have stories, and they all have memories,” she said. “People have adorned themselves since they walked on two legs.”

In 1990, Merkle turned her passion into profit and opened what is quite possibly the most culturally diverse craft store in Appalachia: Beads & Things.

At first glance, the store is an explosion of color: beads and stones of every shape, size and shade hang from display racks, sit in baskets on the floor, and in small bowls on every available surface.

Psssst! Click on me to learn more about the cultural significance of beads. (Photo by Kati Holland)

As dazzling as it is, the true emphasis is on the “things,” as there is more to Merkle and Phil Berry, her husband and co-owner, (and their store) than meets the eye.

“We get our beads from all over the world,” Berry said, “and each one has a story. Some by the way they’re made, some by who makes them, what they’re used for.”

Each time a customer comes into the store, they encounter hundreds of cultures. Yet, Berry said, they all have one thing in common.

“They all used beads!” he said with a laugh. “No matter where we humans are, we seem to come back to these little things.”

it’s cold outside and i’m so happy

A post shared by c y d n e y (@cydneyamposta) on

so so so many beads 😱

A post shared by Grace Ziemke (@gracemziemke) on

Crystal hunting

A post shared by Corbyn Niese (@corbyn_creative) on

So with all the places they’ve been and the cultures they’ve experienced, what keeps Merkle and Berry in Appalachia?

“Athens is so embracing,” Merkle said. “We have made deep bonds with people and the land.”

Berry agreed, adding, “Our roots are here.”


Click on the map to explore some of Merkle and Berry’s favorite destinations. Where would you like to go? More importantly, where do you keep going back? Tell us in the comments below!

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