Walking into Accents by Fred is more than walking into a boutique. It’s also walking into an art gallery, since practically everything sold in the store is hand-made by Fred Bryant and Ann Hanson, husband and wife and owners of the store at 7519 Madison St., which is entering its 20th year in Forest Park.
“Who starts a business where you make everything yourself?” said Bryant with a laugh. “When we first opened, we had hardly anything to sell.”
That was 20 years ago, and now the store is decorated with jewelry and purses, with wood and stone hand-carved sculptures, with knitted and crocheted hats and intricately designed greeting cards. And the vast majority of it is hand-made by Bryant and Hanson.
Even more? Bryant doesn’t buy beads and string them to make his own jewelry – he makes the beads himself as well.
“I wanted to make jewelry,” said Bryant, “but all the beads were the same. So I decided to make my own beads.” He learned how to do it, he said, by reading books about it.
“He started doing it in our living room,” said Hanson. “With a heat gun over the carpet.”
Now the back section of the store is a dedicated space where Bryant melts glass to make his own beads. Back there he also has a sewing machine that cuts through leather so he can create purses. And it’s where he stores supplies, including glass from Murano, Italy that he uses for making beads.
“It’s not just art,” added Hanson. “There’s science behind it, and math. Specialized tools.”
When the couple visited Murano to buy glass, the shop keeper there asked Bryant how he had learned to make beads, and Bryant told him he had studied the subject, reading books on it until he knew what he was doing.
Bryant is well-versed in many subjects, a real-life Renaissance man. He and Hanson both taught math at Columbia College, and Hanson still teaches a class there. Bryant was at Columbia for 16 years. He also taught elementary school in Chicago, and he’s worked in aviation, at Brooks Brothers, as a trader of stocks and bonds and has owned two photography studios.
“Sometimes when I tell people all the things I’ve done, they ask me how it’s possible. I tell them, ‘I’m over 80 years old. What do you expect?'”
He added that about every 10 years, he liked to stop what he was doing and learn something new, and he always tried to stay ahead of the trends so he wouldn’t be caught without a job.
“Timing is everything,” agreed Hanson.
The couple attribute timing to their success, but point out other things that have, they think, kept their business going.
“It’s just us,” said Hanson.
“And our personalities,” added Bryant. “We offer a lot of different things. We’re always making something new.”
Rolling with the punches seems to have helped them as well; the willingness to adapt and evolve when opportunities arose has brought in new avenues of business. Watch and jewelry repair are two examples of this.
“A long time ago, Wayne Schauer [the now deceased owner of Schauer Hardware] said he’d bought a bunch of watch batteries and asked if I knew how to replace batteries. I did,” said Bryant. “So he sent over the batteries and told people to see me if they needed a new battery in their watch. From there it progressed. If someone needed a new crystal in their watch, I started replacing those. Then fixing broken watch bands and rebuilding watches. The business has grown a lot.”
Bryant does jewelry repair as well, something he didn’t originally plan on doing but enjoys and finds lucrative. “People feel comfortable leaving their pieces with me. And I fix them.”
He makes custom jewelry too. “If someone has something special – a broken plate that was their grandmother’s for example – I can take pieces of that and turn them into a necklace,” he said. Hanson was wearing a necklace and earrings made from a spoon that had been in her family for years.
Hanson’s specialty is greeting cards, which are all hand-made. Bryant and Hanson want people to know that, especially with the closing of Hallmark, they are a great place to stop by to purchase cards, and not mass-marketed ones.
“People leaving Duffy’s who need to bring something home last-minute for Valentine’s Day can always stop by,” said Bryant with a smile.
Hanson holds monthly card-making workshops too for people who want to learn to make delicate and intricate hand-made creations.
What’s important to both Bryant and Hanson is that they love what they’re doing. “We love to create things. It’s a lot of fun.”