Fortunoff Returns to Brick-and-Mortar Jewelry Retail



Fortunoff once again wants to be “the source” for Long Island jewelry buyers.

The fabled retailer has soft-opened a Fortunoff Fine Jewelry store in Westbury, N.Y.—its first-ever jewelry-only shop and its first venture into brick-and-mortar jewelry retail since its 2009 bankruptcy. The store’s official opening is slated for Sept. 18.

Esther Fortunoff, the granddaughter of company founders Max and Clara, will serve as president and CEO. Amy Curran, Bonnie Goodman, and other company veterans are among its 12 employees.

The new boutique stands about 1,900 square feet—“bigger than a typical jewelry store but not huge,” Fortunoff says. It features a repair shop staffed by a veteran Fortunoff master jeweler and a mural that formerly adorned the company’s Fifth Avenue store.

Fortunoff and brother David—who will not be involved in the new store—have also run jewelry e-tailer Fortunoffjewelry.com since 2010. That venture has been doing well, Fortunoff says, but “so many people say it’s hard for them to visualize the pieces, and they don’t feel comfortable buying them online.”

Fortunoff says she has been thinking about a brick-and-mortar space for some time, and the enthusiastic response to a December pop-up trunk show in Garden City, N.Y., shifted her plans into higher gear. 

“So many customers were happy we were there, and that pushed me into getting a brick-and-mortar space more quickly than I was expecting to,” she says.

The new store has already racked up several sales, with the first being an engagement ring.

“The mom and dad were with the young man, and they told him, ‘You have to buy it here,’ ” she says. 

Indeed, the retailer’s biggest asset is the fond memories many locals still have of it.

“We have very loyal Fortunoff fans, customers who are passionate,” she says. “Fortunoff was a name, but it was also a family. So many people worked in the company. We had great benefits and tuition reimbursement. We put people through law school. Our employees were happy and stayed for decades. When I go to dinner, people will tell me, ‘I worked in the camera department, or I worked with your grandmother in pots and pans.’ So it’s not just the name from advertising. It’s a real family feeling.” 

Still, the store must now tell old fans it is back as well as attract a new generation. It plans to do that with a “reasonable amount” of advertising, Fortunoff says.

“There is no co-op, so I have to make my dollars really stretch,” she says. “We will do newspapers, magazines, and radio. We want to make social media a bigger part of the mix. We have Pinterest and Facebook pages. We will do a lot of reaching out.” 

But Fortunoff is also returning to a much more competitive landscape.  

“There are so many people selling jewelry, and being so close to New York City makes it doubly hard,” she says. “But we can compete because we are knowledgeable about jewelry. We are knowledgeable about what women can wear with what. We are the experts. That is the only thing that can separate us from all the other jewelers around.”

There will be some changes in the merchandise stocked by the 2014-model Fortunoff store, including an emphasis on estate pieces and unique items.

“We will feature great jewelry at good prices and not really rely much on designers,” Fortunoff says. “We stand for being savvy and good buyers who want to pass the savings onto the customer, and that will continue.”

“The handmade, maker culture that is now so popular with Etsy is something that I have always been interested in, and I tried to represent that on the website and in the store,” she says. “I have some edgy and cooler designers that wouldn’t normally be associated with Fortunoff. I’m also bringing back some of the designs that were done for us.”  

This is not the first resurrection of the Fortunoff brand name. Fortunoff Backyard Stores, established in 2010 and run by former company executives, now numbers 24 locations.

Fortunoff says she would love for her venture to have similar success and return to some of the company’s old locations. But for now she is focused on this boutique, which is entirely self funded. 

“I have to be humble and learn what’s changed in the market and get a better sense of what people want,” she says. “The world is quite different now than five years ago.”

If the business expands, “I need to do it like a small business, like my grandparents did,” she says. “Small and growing.”

JCK News Director