Like many who lived through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, jeweler Jennifer Gandia remembers the day and subsequent weeks with a series of words: Shock. Confusion. Trauma.
Perhaps the worst word of all, Gandia says, is silence. Her parents, Carlos and Milly, had celebrated 25 years in their Greenwich Street store right before planes hit the World Trade Center towers and the world changed forever. Their jewelry business was about a block and a half away “in the shadow of the Trade Center,” Gandia says. Everyone inside the store survived. But the building sustained structural damage, and they had to move.
The word Gandia uses for that time in her family’s lives is harrowing, which means “acutely painful or distressing.” It is an apt word for that moment in her parents’ lives, Gandia says. “It gave them a long time to think about what they were going to do. Should they regroup? Do they close? They felt too young to retire. This was the only neighborhood they had known.”
In the 10 months after the attacks, before a friend helped the Gandia family find a new store location, New York and the life Gandia knew was quiet. Too quiet, she recalls. Not only was there a literal hole in the earth where beautiful buildings once stood, but more than 3,000 lives—husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, and emergency personnel—were gone.
Gandia says she used that time to think, to travel, to reconsider her life’s work. Her parents set up shop at nearby Trinity Place. They had scrambled during the closure, going to people’s homes or businesses to share their love of jewelry and her father’s custom work. Neither Gandia nor her sister, Christina Gambale, were part of the business—but that was about to change.
Gandia recalls walking around Europe during those recovery months, poking into jewelers and studying how they worked. It was a comfort, she reflects now, to see their displays, to watch how they created special moments. Gandia decided to work with her parents “for one or two years, tops,” she says.
“For me, it was a ‘come to Jesus’ moment. What am I doing with my life? I realized I was doing what I went to school for, what I thought I wanted to do. But I didn’t feel fulfilled,” Gandia says. “In Barcelona, I was constantly stopping at jewelry stores, seeing how they were displaying things. It was so different from the States.… I had a marketing background, and I knew my parents would need the help. They were opening in a neighborhood that had no foot traffic.”
Gandia also knew she someday wanted a store of her own, so she joined her parents in 2003. “I wanted to help them survive. It felt like starting over in a sense,” she says. She helped launch a website and start online marketing, and she convinced her parents to open on the weekends, to pull new customers into the area. The jewelry store got online reviews, lauding its work and customer service. Things started to grow.
“It was like internal excavation,” Gandia says of setting up the business that now resides at 64 Trinity Place—named Greenwich St. Jewelers in honor of the original location. “When you have to survive, you’re willing to try anything. When you have nothing to lose, everyone gets on board and works together.”
Christina joined the family business in 2007. A vibrant bridal component was added to the store. Businesses around it started to reopen. New York was recovering, and things weren’t so quiet anymore.
“It was like a new era was starting,” Gandia says. “It was about the same time as the neighborhood started to feel like it was working toward something as opposed to recovering.”
Her parents retired, and the sisters took over the business in 2009. Her father passed away in 2018. Now, Gandia says, the family is approaching the store’s 45th anniversary with feelings of gratitude. With the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks nearing, Gandia says she is still feeling “tender around it,” but she will honor the day and the people.
“The truth is, Christina and I—neither one of us had a plan to join the business,” she says. “Our parents never once asked us. They were always supportive, but they wanted us to have our own experiences. They knew how hard everyone would have to work. I remember having to convince them that this would work.
“With our anniversary coming up, we feel really blessed and excited to be at this stage—to have made it,” Gandia says. “We’ve been through financial crises, Hurricane Sandy, coronavirus. And we’re still standing. That feels really important for us to acknowledge.… It’s bittersweet to honor the fact that 9/11 was the catalyst for so much change that occurred in the business. But it wasn’t the end of the story. It was the start of a new time for our family, for our store.”
Top: Owners Jennifer Gandia (left) and Christina Gambale (all photos courtesy of Greenwich St. Jewelers)Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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