Gary Block knows there is sadness to the end of Block Jewelers, his Philadelphia-area jewelry store. After all, this is the place where he worked his first job, met his wife, and developed lifelong friendships with his clients.
While the closure is “bittersweet,” Block says shuttering the last location in Springfield, Penn., also has been a time to reminisce with community members, spend time with his two daughters who came in to help with the final weeks, and dream about the future with his wife, Leslie, as they look forward to retirement.
Best of all, it is a time to recall family adventures, like the overseas business trips Block took with his father, Alfred, to stock the store. They handpicked each diamond they would sell, turning them into pendants, earrings, and, best of all, engagement rings for couples in love.
“I got to spend 30 years with my dad,” Block says. “In addition to being my dad, we saw eye to eye on practically everything. He let me pretty much do my thing; he felt I was a natural salesperson like my grandfather and him.”
Block says the warmth between the people who worked at Block Jewelers was shared with everyone who walked in the doors—the same doors that have been open to the public for everything from basic household needs when the retailer was a general merchandise–style store to fine jewelry. Now, with the store days away from its finale, Block knows how special it all was.
“We treated everybody like family—they treated us well,” Block says. “Our customers have been very loyal—we’ve been their jeweler for 50 years.”
Block Jewelers opened in 1929 with Gary’s grandfather, Harry. It started as Block Marble at 13th and Walnut in Philly. Years later, Harry’s two sons—Alfred and Bryon—took the reins and renamed the place Block Distributors, eventually turning it into what was known as a catalog showroom by the mid-1950s.
These showrooms were ways to sell everything from luggage to appliances to jewelry, Block says. People saw what they wanted on the floor, created an order, and someone went to the warehouse or back room and got it for the customer. At one point, the Block family had five total locations that served people in the tristate area.
“We’ve pulled out the old catalogs and reminisced with customers,” Block says. “It’s funny to see the kind of electronics we sold in the 1980s.… There were a lot of (these catalog retailers) at one time. You took their sales slip, wrote down what they wanted, sent it up to the warehouse, and the new item would come down to the floor. It was like magic.”
That is how Block met his wife, Leslie. She was a 16-year-old student working in the general-merchandise area, taking orders for customers. She has worked at the store since then, Block says, so she is ready to retire. That is another reason why Block Jewelers was successful, he notes—the family atmosphere.
“We had people out there who worked hard and really rolled up their sleeves,” Block says. “It’s been a good team effort.”
This final location started selling jewelry by the mid-1980s. Because the family owned the building, they were able to rent out the other half and turn their side into a fine jewelry store. Customers knew Block Jewelers as “the King of Diamonds,” Block says.
That is why he thinks of his grandfather, father, and all of the Block family during these last days—and he knows they would understand the bitter as well as the sweet.
“We were proud to be a part of this industry,” Block says.
Top: Gary and Alfred Block ran the family jewelry business together for 30 years. Now, Block Jewelers is preparing to close its doors so Gary can retire (all photos courtesy of Block Jewelers).
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