Minding her own business (8:01 a.m.)

Lora Lunsford begins her commute shortly after 8 a.m. She takes 10 steps from her kitchen and enters what she calls the “Steel Magnolias” of bead shops.

Lunsford conveniently lives next door to Helena’s The Bead Biz, the jewelry and bead shop she’s owned and operated since 2002. Amid purple-hued walls and beads of every size and color, Lunsford and her mostly female clientele create intricate pieces, while sharing their joys and sorrows.

“This whole store grew into something different from what I thought it would be,” Lunsford said. “It has become a gathering place for a lot of people that have become friends over the years.”

At The Bead Biz, no subject is off-limits. Lunsford recalled a time when a customer told the story of her child’s birth. The woman was in so much pain that she slapped her attending nurse. It just so happened the nurse was among the customers listening to the now-hilarious story.

“(The nurse) turned around and said, ‘That was you?’” Lunsford said laughing. “Now, they’re great friends.”

The camaraderie here has allowed women to overcome life’s obstacles. Several of Lunsford’s customers are disabled, having been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and chronic back pain. The Bead Biz is their escape.

“(The Bead Biz) is not here to make money. It’s here for relationships. It’s here for people to rely on each other,” Lunsford said.

“This place has a purpose that’s much bigger than me.”

As Lunsford cuts price labels for her latest shipment of beads, the gentle ring of the bell above the door lets her know the day’s first customer has arrived. Two women browse through the shop, pointing out which beads accentuate their wardrobe.

It’s time for Lunsford to go to work.

“I’m not just selling beads,” she said. “It’s the atmosphere I’m selling.”