Illinois Jeweler Celebrates 160 Years in Business

Goulding’s Jewelers in Alton, Ill., one of the oldest jewelers in the St. Louis metropolitan area, is celebrating its 160th year in business. Founded by E.H. Goulding in 1852, the business was passed from generation to generation over the next 90 years—E.H. handed the reins to C.L. Goulding and then to Robert Goulding in the ‘40s.

In the 1960s, Vaughn Oberlink, who had been struggling to feed a family of five with a small jewelry store in Farmer City, Ill., answered an ad for a watch repairman at Goulding’s. Ten years later, Oberlink bought the store from Robert Goulding. Oberlink’s son, David, took over the business for good in 1976 and moved it to its current location at 219 East Center Drive. Before he entered the family business, he had been a fourth-grade teacher in the Alton school system.

“I was burning out as a teacher and then I saw how the business treated my dad,” says Oberlink. “I still enjoy coming in and being my own boss. I have no regrets.”

David Oberlink

Goulding’s is now a full-service jewelry store featuring diamonds and pearls, colored stones, religious jewelry, watches, men’s jewelry, bracelets, rings, and necklaces. Repairs, custom designed pieces, gold and estate jewelry as well as consignment jewelry round out the business.

Over the decades, Goulding’s business has had to adapt to ever-changing climates. “The biggest change for us is how much our engagement ring business has gone down as a result of the superstores, the Internet, and the Blue Niles,” says Oberlink.

However, an aggressive advertising strategy during the Christmas selling season and stocking brands like Pandora, Simon Golub, and collections from Gabriel & Co. have helped push sales up 8 percent over last year. Sales of diamond studs were also particularly robust this year. “The area was hit hard [in the economic downturn] but we bounced back over the the last three years,” Oberlink says.

Goulding’s has managed to maintain its average price per sale. Oberlink attributes that to customers’ continuing desire to seek out the bricks-and-mortar experience. “There is a need for services,” Oberlink says, noting he enjoys seeing the looks on people’s faces when he takes something old and tarnished and buffs it into something new. Customers also come in for appraisals. “Repairs and design is hard to get online.”

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JCK Magazine Editor