What happens when coronavirus hits and a jeweler has too much time on their collective hands? In the case of Richter & Phillips, they decided it was time to renovate a part of their store—and the results are remarkable, not only for the business but also for Cincinnati.
Richter & Phillips Jewelers is located inside a century-old bank at 6th and Main in the city’s downtown area. The building was a wreck when they moved in, its owners say, but a renovation brought it to a modern era. Today, the family-owned business has the largest jewelry showroom in the city.
Everything looked great except for the old bank vault in the basement. When the pandemic hit and the store shuttered for a short time, father-son owners Rick and Eric Fehr say they decided it was time to finish the job they started in 2016 when they moved into the space.
With the help of Digs, a local interior design firm, the basement’s large, walk-in banking area is now known as The Vault, a high-end, 1920s-inspired speakeasy lounge. The Vault now has two main uses: The jewelry store uses it as a private meeting room, accommodating clients including couples looking to design the perfect engagement ring or anniversary present.
Its other use is for the community. Richter & Phillips made the space free for nonprofits to use as needed. So far, groups ranging from a local book club to nonprofit organizations to Cincinnati groups of all kinds. Richter & Phillips also hopes to partner with local groups who use the space for special events and fundraisers.
“We always knew it could be something special,” says Eric Fehr, Rick’s son and vice president and Graduate Gemologist for Richter & Phillips.
The Vault is a stunner of a space. A long white marble stairway and hall leads to its heavy iron door, original to the bank. Inside, there is an intimate seating area punctuated by an emerald-green couch and two cobalt-blue chairs. Greenery helps highlight the dark walls in addition to period-style light fixtures and a fully stocked bar with a marble countertop. One wall features historical Richter & Phillips advertisements from that time, a nod to the jeweler’s impressive past.
That’s why The Vault is also a place to celebrate the history of the jewelry company itself. Richter & Phillips recently celebrated its 125th anniversary and is in its fourth generation of family ownership. Founder Frederick W. Fehr, a traveling diamond salesman, opened his first store in 1930. Today, his grandson, Frederick “Rick” Fehr III, runs the show.
Richter & Phillips also holds its own fundraising events in the store, so The Vault will be a welcome addition when they go back to larger-scale get-togethers. Its annual event, Whiskey & Watches, helps raise money for local charities and nonprofits and can have more than 250 participants.
Ironically, Eric Fehr is a former attorney, and in the past he had put liens on the bank building where his family business now operates. “The city wasn’t proud of [the former space],” Fehr says, which makes its current transformation even sweeter.
One of his favorite moments for The Vault so far came recently with a client who purchased diamond studs as an anniversary gift for his wife. He asked to use The Vault space, and with the jeweler’s help, they turned it into a cocktail lounge of sorts.
“He told her they were going to dinner but stopped here first. When they walked down to The Vault, there were the studs and champagne waiting,” Fehr says. “They hung out and had a cocktail together before dinner. I’m sure she’ll wear those studs every day, but she’ll remember that moment even longer.”
Top: A former bank vault inside Cincinnati-based Richter & Phillips Jewelers went from blah to brilliant thanks to a recent renovation, turning the space into a private meeting room for the jeweler and a gathering space for the community (all photos courtesy of Richter & Phillips).
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