After 38 years of catering to jewelry devotees in Allentown, Pa., Charles Paul Gem Designs is closing its doors in June.
The 1,500-square-foot shop specializes in custom-made pieces—crafted by co-owner C. Paul Stubbe—built around spectacular gemstones, along with jewels from biggie bridal and designer brands including Stuller, Coast Diamonds, and Edward Mirell.
C. Paul Stubbe and Deborah Stubbe
Stubbe opened the store, which he now owns with his wife, Deborah, in 1974, after buying out an existing jewelry shop in downtown Allentown. “I bought the inventory and machinery for $2,500,” he recalls with a laugh. “Silver and turquoise were really hot back then, so that was the bulk of what we bought.”
Stubbe, a self-described “rock hound” who became a certified gemologist and jeweler after taking some art courses in his 20s, relocated the outpost to a historic building in a more suburban section of Allentown in 1988.
He owns the building, which comprises the storefront and office space, and plans to rent out the retail portion in the coming months.
Persistent health issues, along with an unhealthy economy, are the reasons Stubbe cites for closing the store. But he’s not shelving his loupe just yet. He’ll maintain an office in the building where he will “probably turn into a private jeweler and see people by appointment. And I still will do custom work and appraisals.”
After all, his favorite part of operating Charles Paul Gem Designs has been the custom work. “I love when people come in and they see the hand-drawn rendering of the piece and kind of go, ‘Eh, okay, do it.’ Then they see the actual piece and get emotional and say, ‘That’s more beautiful than I ever thought it would be.’”
Stubbe’s clients frequently bring in heirloom pieces, requesting that they be restored or transformed into new designs.
Staffing issues, inflexible hours, and endless hours of admin-related tasks like payroll are among the daily duties Stubbe is happy to leave behind when the store closes. Plus, in his estimation, “these days it’s getting harder to have a retail store, and less and less worth it.”
The retailer has two children, but neither took a shine to the business. “It’s the kind of thing you really have to have a passion for to be involved in,” he says.
Stubbe, for one, has always had a passion for taking on the trickiest of repair jobs, and many of his competitors have passed problematic pieces on to him over the years. “I’ll miss being an authority,” he adds. “It’s kind of an ego thing.”
But Stubbe’s loyal customers will still be able to call on him. “People have been saying, ‘What are we going to do? We finally found a good jeweler.’ But I’ve reassured them that I’ll be around. I’m not disappearing into the sunset.”