Byzantium turns 25 this year. Some of its merchandise is much, much older.

Byzantium turns 25 this year. Some of its merchandise is much, much older.

So old, in fact, that a tray of ethnic bracelets from India, Afghanistan and China in the shop's jewelry display case is simply marked "old." Other things are new, like eco-friendly banners-turned-shopping bags.

Above all, Byzantium is known for its bead selection, which takes up about half the inventory - just as it was two decades ago.

A lot has changed since then, said owner Joyce Griffiths. The store's original owner Libby Gregory, who also helped to found ComFest, was killed in a plane crash in 1991. A friend of Gregory's, Griffiths has stayed true to her predecessor's preferences, like not selling leather in the store. She also oversaw a move from King Avenue in Victorian Village to Byzantium's current Short North home.

The beads have remained a primary focus. Byzantium is different from other bead stores, and especially chain craft stores, because it carries imported trade beads from Africa and other countries, Griffiths said.

That appreciation for and awareness of other cultures helped turn Byzantium into a world marketplace, offering jewelry and home decor from around the globe. Each piece has its own story, and some are hand-written on cards around the store.

Telling a special story right now are colorful, hand-beaded Haitian voodoo flags hanging from the ceiling in a back corner, Griffiths said. Because of the havoc caused by the earthquake, there's no telling when the people there will begin making such things again. So for each tapestry-like flag purchased, 20 percent of the cost will be donated to disaster relief efforts.

Other handmade items, like a blue bear mask by the door and beaded figurines in the back of the store, have been around so long that they're synonymous with Byzantium, Griffiths said.

And the atmosphere can't help but bring out creativity in patrons who come looking for jewelry-making supplies.

"They all add to people's inspiration," Griffiths said. "They get all this visual stimulation when they come in the store - colors and textures and things - that helps them in their jewelry designs."

Those in need of even more inspiration can sign up for Byzantium's seasonal selection of jewelry classes, starting with the basics and working up to creating fused-glass and chainmaille designs.