Fran Udell, the former co-owner of London Jewelers, the five-store chain on New York’s Long Island, and a driving force behind the store’s prominence, died Aug. 1 at age 94.
“Fran London Udell was the cornerstone of London Jewelers,” says current president Candy Udell, Fran’s daughter-in-law. “Retail was in her blood as she lived and breathed it everyday. She was a powerhouse, a force of nature, a woman who wore many hats at time when most women stayed home.”
Fran Udell was the daughter of Charles London, a self-taught clockmaker who emigrated from Europe in 1923, hoping to make enough money to summon his wife and children. He started out going door to door selling his repair services and opened his first store three years later. It initially specialized in clocks but later grew to include jewelry to reflect the tastes of the Roaring ’20s.
Six years after he left for America, London had earned money to bring over the rest of his family. Fran remembered her first time seeing the store: It was “our savior…a tiny, dark, humble shop built with dreams of freedom, hope, and joy.”
Fran spent years working with her father, learning the business. In 1939, she went on a blind date with Mayer Udell, who had just emigrated from Europe at his family’s urging at the start of World War II. Fran and Mayer were married seven years later; her father picked out the engagement ring. Mayer later became company chairman, running the business with his wife.
Fran Udell is survived by sons Mark, who serves as company CEO, and Ira; five grandchildren, three of whom work in the family business—Randi Udell Alper, Zachary Udell, and Scott Udell, who works alongside wife Jessica; and seven great grandchildren.
Mayer died last year around this time.
Donations in her memory can be made to Siegel Multiple Myeloma Fund or Congregation Tifereth Israel in Glen Cove, N.Y.