Ernest Perry, who cofounded Perry’s Diamonds & Estate Jewelry in Charlotte, N.C., and helped turn it into a local institution, died on July 22. He was 78.
Perry was a born businessman—he had his first paper route at age 8 and later sold magazines door to door, according to The Charlotte Ledger. After a stint in the Army, he became manager of a local jewelry franchise, the Jewel Box. In 1976, he met his wife, Priscilla, and two years later they opened their first store, Perry’s Jewelry Emporium.
Its early years were modest—the two “would comb estate sales in their Toyota station wagon to build inventory,” according to its site. “They knew they were in business when they had filled up more than 50 coffee cans with jewelry.”
But from there, the store became a Charlotte landmark, in part because of Perry’s tireless efforts for local charities. A licensed auctioneer, Perry, armed with a hammer and quick wit, raised $55 million for organizations like the Allegro Foundation, Second Harvest Foodbank of Metrolina, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Patriot Military Family Foundation, and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
In 2015, the Perrys’ store was named one of Charlotte’s top family businesses by the Charlotte Business Journal. It rebranded in 2018 as Perry’s Diamonds & Estate Jewelry, as part of its 40th birthday celebration. The couple’s daughters Hadley and Brittany both work in the store, which now employs some 30 people, including 10 GIA-graduate gemologists.
“Ernie’s honesty and integrity in business, and his loyalty to those who worked for him, is of a type rarely seen in today’s world,” said a store statement. “Ernie valued the relationships he built with each and every one of his customers and vendors and impressed upon his staff the importance of treating everyone with respect, kindness, and dignity.”
Perry is survived by Priscilla, his wife of 45 years; daughters Hadley, Brittany, Ginger, and Candice; and six grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family asks people to make a donation to the charitable organization of their choice.
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