If you’re looking for jeweler Jeff Bong after Dec. 31, you’ll find him hanging out with his grandkids in Ithaca, N.Y.; fly-fishing with his best friend in Montana; or visiting Culpeper, Va., where he’s planning to move in the near future.
The fourth-generation owner of 126-year-old fine jewelry store Bong’s Jewelers in Corning, N.Y., has announced he will close the store Dec. 31. At 73 years old, he will transition into semiretirement.
Jeff’s great-grandfather, French-born landscape architect John E. Bong—who worked for years for Teddy Roosevelt on Sagamore Island—opened Bong’s Jewelers in 1892 with his brother.
John’s son, William L. Bong Sr., a trained watchmaker, eventually took over the store, followed by Jeff’s father, William L. Bong Jr., a Harvard Business School graduate and a former accountant for the World’s Fair.
Jeff, whose full name is William Jeffrey Bong, attended Boston University and worked as a real estate appraiser in Boston before returning to Corning in 1975 to work with his father before buying him out of the business in 1976.
“It’s time for me to stop,” Jeff tells JCK. “I have two daughters, and they don’t want to run the business. And I want to do something else with the second half of my life. I want a little more free time.”
The good-humored jeweler adds, “I don’t want to have to get up to the alarm at 6 every morning—if I want to sleep until 6:30, I’ll do that.”
Jeff owns his building and hopes to eventually create an apartment on its top floor, which is now occupied by a restaurant. And he says he’s set on moving to Culpeper, Va., where he’ll “set up an office and do some special-order work.”
But closing the store on Market Street is bittersweet, he adds. How could it not be? “We’ve been there so long. It’s not like I’m leaving my customers. It’s like I’m leaving my friends.”
Top: Bong’s Jewelers in Corning, N.Y. (photo by Jeff Murray, courtesy of Bong’s Jewelers)