Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’ll be checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt glean shareable tips and tricks for a better and more productive quarantine (and for many, reopening).
Today we hear from retailer Jennifer Gandia, who co-owns influential downtown New York City jewelry store Greenwich St. Jewelers with her sister Christina Gandia Gambale.
JCK: Where are you based, and are you still in quarantine?
Jennifer Gandia: In late October I purchased a little cottage in upstate New York that I planned to use for a weekend escape from the city. By March 15, I realized that I would be quarantined there indefinitely. I spent the first three months there with my mom and aunt, both in their 70s—all of us live in large apartment buildings in Brooklyn and are considered high-risk due to age and existing conditions. While they’ve since moved on, I’ve decided to stay in the country with my dog Simba for as long as I can.
Have you been getting out a little more with the reopening of parts of New York City?
Upstate New York is ahead of New York City and is more “open,” but I’m in a high-risk category and keeping my distance. I’ve tried a couple of nonessential activities but found it too risky and stressful since many people don’t wear masks and I’ve seen businesses not enforcing their own mask-required policies. The best thing is that I can get out in nature: hiking, biking, even just driving country roads with plenty of distance from others, and I have been making ample use of that privilege.
Have you reopened the store to some extent? If so, how has the reopening gone so far? How are customers behaving/reacting?
Yes, we opened by appointment only in mid-June and were able to bring back some of our furloughed team. The schedule is staggered for social distancing, and we have a detailed protocol for safe interactions. Our top priority is the health and safety of our staff and clients.
We’ve been working the entire time and pivoted to virtual appointments very quickly. Within a few weeks, people were asking about in-person appointments, which surprised us. Now that we’re back, it’s at a much-reduced capacity, but we find that people are willing to come in for appointments. Our Saturday schedule has been fully booked for the past few weeks. Customers have been patient and obliging. The consultation process has been slowed down significantly due to the safety protocol, but they seem to be grateful for our diligence. Our goal is that they feel secure and confident in our commitment to their safety while in our store.
How has the pandemic changed your business plans for 2020 and beyond?
We were in the middle of building a new website when COVID hit. It’s clear that any strategy for success must include a strong digital/virtual offering, and we’ll be working on that diligently. We’ve outfitted our team with all the latest tech and are continuously training on virtual selling as we learn more about the nuances of this kind of transaction. We are focused on survival right now. Having lived through 9/11, we have some experience with disaster and its aftereffects, and that is nothing compared to this situation.
On a more positive note, we have had time to think about what’s really important to us as a company and will be making many exciting changes in the remaining months of the year and beyond. We remain hopeful and certainly have plenty of fight left in us as we move through this challenging chapter.
How has your heart and mind been reacting to the BLM protests?
The moment of time we are currently in has been long in coming—too long, when you consider the centuries-long history of systemic racism in our country. My heart is both heavy and hopeful. What we are all witnessing is a revolution, and yet what we are each experiencing is different depending on where your beliefs lie regarding racial equity. As a member of the BIPOC community, I stand firmly with the Black community and have personally pledged to do my part to ensure an equitable world for all.
How do you feel the protests and BLM movement will impact your business going forward?
Christina and I are Puerto Rican, so a part of the BIPOC community, and I sit on the advisory panel of the NYC Jewelry Week equality initiative, Here We Are. I’ve also been doing anti-racism work for a couple of years now. And you know what that’s gotten me? No gold star. Only the opportunity to look deeper at my own biases and opportunities for growth. Once the protests started, Christina and I sat down and discussed the type of organization we wanted to have. We recognized that even though we wanted to be diverse, we hadn’t done all we could to actually get there. So, we came up with the plan we shared with our clients and followers to evolve our organization. It includes greater BIPOC representation in merchandise, vendors, and creative partners, anti-racism training for our staff, monetary donations, mentorship, and we are doing research to create a grant or scholarship.
What kinds of things do you think jewelry retailers can do to become more inclusive and appropriately recognize and celebrate BIPOC designers?
I think it all starts with your own inner work. If we’re American, we have been conditioned by a system and society that has instilled racial prejudices in our psyche. The good news is that we can work to change our minds and hearts and therefore our organizations and world. But it’s going to take work.
The impulse to react when the BLM protests started was strong. Everyone rushed to try to do something to fix it, because the reality is so uncomfortable. But it will take more than donating money, going to a protest, or finding a Black designer to carry to create lasting change—though we certainly can do all of those things too! We need to educate ourselves, listen to BIPOC, challenge our beliefs and most importantly, be willing to fumble. We’ve learned about an incredible array of Black and BIPOC designers over the past few weeks.
My fervent hope is that retailers will be thoughtful and intentional about adding them to their stores and work to help them grow and strengthen their businesses and place in our industry.
How have you been relaxing or mentally escaping during quarantine?
I have been learning to garden, hiking, and studying herbalism—nature has been the greatest support system. I’ve also been creating gemstone and antique medal rosaries for family and friends who need a spiritual touchstone at this time.
My regular meditation and prayer practice has felt like a spiritual insurance policy I could call in during this stressful time. All that practice helped me to be able to do it even when I felt utterly overwhelmed.
Do you have any good book/TV/movie/podcast recommendations?
As a matter of fact, I do!
Books I’ve read recently and loved: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Overstory by Richard Powers. Currently I’m reading Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Fun fact, I love young adult fantasy about as much as I love TV and movies about high school, which is lots!
Let’s face it, the TV list is long. But I can say I really enjoyed Mrs. America on Hulu, season two of The Politician on Netflix, and I love Insecure on HBO (this season’s cliff-hanger was crazy!) As for podcasts: Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us is just fabulous—heart-opening and thought-provoking. I’m also regularly listening to NPR’s Code Switch and Missing Witches.
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