In the winter of 2011, a woman approached Justin Bortz at a rotary function in Reading, Pa., and asked if he could make a Pagoda charm. While it may sound like an odd request to some, it made perfect sense to Bortz, the owner of Justin Bortz Jewelers, because Reading has a famous one. The Pagoda is a 106-year-old historical fixture in town, initially designed to mask unsightly quarry mining operations carried out at the turn of the last century. Today, the Pagoda is not only a beloved and beautiful monument admired by locals and a fixture in the landscape, but also something that Bortz captured in silver miniature.
Bortz worked with a local CAD expert to create a charm in silver, and word of his handiwork quickly spread, leading to more customers. Around the same time, Bortz was working with a business coach who encouraged him to make more charms of local monuments, thinking the move could snowball into new commerce. So Bortz challenged fans of his Facebook page to propose new monuments for production. Suggestions included a Reading railroad car—“like the one on the Monopoly board,” says Bortz—as well as an Astor Theater charm, a Bell Alley pretzel, and an A for Alvernia University. Not long after, City Charm was born.
Bortz then opened up his domain to include Lancaster, Pa.; Philadelphia; Boston; Baltimore; and the Jersey Shore. “Pittsburgh will be next,” he explains. The charms retail for $59.99 apiece and each collection has from about five to 10 SKUs.
“They bring in the most foot traffic,” says Bortz about the charms in his store. “Customers pick out the most emotionally charged icons that they have a story about—like how someone’s grandfather worked on the railroad, or someone else’s mom took them down to Bell’s Alley for pretzels.”
For each piece sold, 10 percent benefits a children’s-based charity in the namesake city. (In Reading, the Opportunity House benefits from sales of Bortz’s Reading charm line.) Charms fit onto all bracelets from the most popular brands (Pandora, Trollbeads, and Chamilia). Bortz has even applied to QVC to debut a nationwide line.
Most important for jewelers to know, Bortz is wholesaling the line to stores. So far three—the Pennsylvania General Store in Philadelphia, Vincent & Company Fine Jewelers in Lancaster, Pa., and the Black-Eyed Susan in Baltimore—carry the city-specific charms. And while you won’t find them at a trade show, you might notice an ad or two touting them in local media markets and on social media.
Pagoda charm representing the Pagoda monument in Reading, Pa., by City Charm, $59.99
The Reading railroad car charm, by City Charm, $59.99
Saltwater taffy charm from the Jersey Shore line, by City Charm, $59.99
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