Made in Tri-States: With inspiration from family, Dubuque resident launches new business

As she embarks on the process of growing her new, small business, Amy O’Rourke admits there are times when she has her hands full.

The Dubuque resident said she often is working on as many as 10 projects at once.

On top of that, she must monitor online sales, man booths at farmers markets and make sure she has all the supplies to keep making her products.

Even so, O’Rourke said the satisfaction outweighs the stress.

“I get to create things all day, which is what I love to do,” she said. “When you get to make a living doing something you love, going to work doesn’t feel like going to work.”

O’Rourke launched Bead and Board out of her Dubuque home last year.

She has since relocated to a new workshop at 2606 University Ave.

The business sells a variety of home decor and jewelry, as well as some holiday-themed items.

O’Rourke need not look far for inspiration or a template for how to run her business.

She spent much of her childhood accompanying her mother and grandmother to farmers markets, where the two women had a booth that sold afghans and Christmas ornaments.

The farmers market experience resonated with O’Rourke, who soaked in the social aspect of the weekly event and took interest in the handmade products being sold.

O’Rourke’s grandmother and mother have since died, but they continue to serve as a source of inspiration and motivation as she pushes her new business forward.

“I wish they could both be here now to see it,” she said “They would love what I am doing.”

While O’Rourke long has delved into crafting, it was the pandemic that gave her the final push to turn her hobby into a full-time business venture.

She previously worked as a paraprofessional at Irving Elementary School in Dubuque.

“It was my fear of the virus, and being around people and kids all day, that finally convinced me I need to be doing something else,” she said.

Bead and Board has provided a fulfilling, albeit time-consuming, way to make a living.

O’Rourke designs the signs, generally using computer software to experiment with different concepts and pinpoint the style that suits her clients’ needs.

O’Rourke then places the design onto a wooden sign using a variety of techniques. She said she often paints the design onto the wood. Recently, she has started using a laser that allows her added versatility in her creations.

True to its name, Bead and Board focuses on more than just handmade signs.

O’Rourke also crafts jewelry, crocheting the cord, making the beads and, in some cases, creating a pendant as well.

She also makes Christmas ornaments.

The products have been a hit at local farmers markets, helping the company establish a following among customers in the tri-states. Sales on online platforms such as Etsy have helped bring the products to a national audience.

In a crowded marketplace, O’Rourke believes the hands-on nature of her products sets them apart.

“People like the fact that it is handmade and one-of-a-kind,” O’Rourke said. “They know they are not going to go to a wedding party and wear something that somebody else is.”

During the past year, O’Rourke has steadily increased the ways in which she sells her products.

O’Rourke said she conducts a high volume of her sales via online avenues, including Facebook and Etsy. She also has made frequent sales at Dubuque Farmers Market.

Beginning this fall, Bead and Board will start selling at the Galena (Ill.) Country Fair.

To O’Rourke, the hustle and bustle of the market creates an atmosphere befitting her business and her personality.

“I am a people person,” she said. “I love the chance to get out and talk to people.”

The creation of a workshop also helped the business move forward, O’Rourke recently began opening it up to customers, letting them stop by in person to pick up pre-made products or peruse the selection of other offerings she has created.

Amy’s husband, Chris, has been an integral part of the business in its inaugural year. While Amy is the creative force behind the venture, she said her husband brings much of the business expertise to the table.

Chris has been self-employed for more than a decade and knows the signs of a success story when he sees one.

He said he is happy to see his wife turning her “artsy and craftsy side” into a profitable business venture. And he believes her magnetic personality will help Bead and Board reach new heights.

“She is very personable,” Chris said. “They are drawn to her. People want to be around her want to talk with her. That helps the business.”