Tamar Raum laid a broken strand of freshwater pearls on the counter at Aurora’s Beads and Jewelry in Kips Bay. Raum, 71, is a law librarian who has lived in the neighborhood for decades. Aurora’s jewelry repair service had been recommended by the nearby second-hand shop on Third Avenue where she had purchased the necklace.
“They told me how much they love you and how reasonable you are, and this is where they take all of their things,” Raum told shop owner Aurora Manalo. Manalo assured Raum she could restring the necklace by Friday and would adjust the length for a better fit.
Raum’s story is typical of Aurora’s customers. Aurora’s Beads and Jewelry sells beads, jewelry-making supplies, and repair services as well as one-of-a-kind finished pieces handmade by Manalo. Many customers discover the tiny shop through word-of-mouth or a chance encounter while in the neighborhood.
Aurora Manalo, 65, opened the store on East 28th Street over thirty years ago. At its height, the business employed 12 assistants, who helped Manalo produce custom beaded jewelry for a handful of professional designers as well as individual customers seeking something personalized.
Walk-in customers who ring the entry bell are greeted by Manalo herself, a friendly woman with an easy laugh, or by her husband, Omar Boughadda, 62, who helps out on his days off from his job as a manager at Fresh Meadows Country Club.
Strings of colorful beads cover the walls behind a long U-shaped display case filled with more small treasures. The narrow shop accommodates only a few customers at a time, lending a sense of intimacy, as if one had entered a creative friend’s joyfully cluttered living room rather than a commercial business.
Although Manalo has no formal design training, she has a good eye for color and a respect for the natural materials – semiprecious stones, shell, wood, carved bone – she uses in her jewelry.
Customers sometimes request specific stones as talismans – rose quartz for love, turquoise for healing, citrine or amber for attraction, tiger eye for protection against evil. “It’s all in the head, but if you’re going to believe it, it might work,” Manalo said.
She once made a good luck bracelet of jade for a customer headed to Atlantic City. He returned the next week to tell her he had won $2000. She said she told him, “No more, it’s only a one-time deal, sweetie,” so she couldn’t be blamed if he lost the next time.
The business has struggled in the last decade, hurt by a combination of the 2008 economic crash, Hurricane Sandy, online competition, and rising rents in Manhattan.
To stay afloat, Aurora’s laid off its last employee in 2014, and Manalo no longer pays herself a salary. She earns just enough to cover the overhead, but keeps the shop open because she enjoys it. She hopes to renew her lease in 2020, but if the rent increases too much, she may be forced to close the storefront and turn entirely to online sales from her home in Long Island.
For now, Manalo continues to open the shop six days a week and welcome everyone who drops in.