David Mann Jewelers has been serving the staff and visitors at the Pentagon nearly as long as the massive fortress-like structure has existed. So it was going to take a lot more than one hijacked plane crashing into the building to keep the jeweler closed.
Unharmed, but a little shaken by the most unlikely of events, co-owners and brothers Brain and Conrad Mann and their staff (about eight persons) were open for the business the day after the tragic event of September 11.
“We were in here on Wednesday when (U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld said it would be business as usual,” Brian Mann told JCK on Friday from his store. “There was still the smell of smoke and the building was still on fire. We opened up at 8 a.m. (as usual). Some of the civilians came around and said `I think it you better reconsider.’ Yesterday for the first time we stayed opened all day. Today (Friday) we’ll close early for prayer. We didn’t do much business, but were here with our American flag.”
He said the store will continue to operate at its regular schedule.
David Mann Jewelers is one of several retail operations in the Pentagon Mall serving the approximate 29,000 people who are employed by and contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. The Mall is located on the opposite side of where the hijacked plane crashed.
“We were fortunate we were on the other side of the building. Three sides away (of the five-sided building),” Brian Mann says. “We didn’t hear a thing.
“Somebody yelled, and we saw some people running,” he continues. “Protective service (Pentagon police) told us to get out. My brother and I started packing. Then he looked at me, and we said `screw it.’ Our first thought was that it was a bomb.”
Mann described the evacuation as orderly. He still had no idea what was happening when he made it outside but he knew it was big.
“Of course we saw the black smoke. Our cars were in south parking lot not too far away from the crash,” he said. “I still didn’t know at that time what was going on or what I could do. Obviously it was something massive. I was able to call my wife. She knew where we were (in the building) in relation where the plane crashed so she knew we were not hit.”
He then drove home to Maryland (about 30 minutes away from the Arlington, Va.-based Pentagon) while using his cellular phone to contact his daughter and son at their respective schools. The enormous amount of phone calls going on at the time made using his phone difficult.
“I was trying to get the cell phone to work and I was able to get through every third time,” Mann said. “I got through to the high school to tell my daughter I’m fine. I finally got through to the middle school to tell my son I’m fine. The school wanted to put me on hold I said, `No, this is important. You have to tell my son that I’m okay.'”
He says he feels fortunate that fate, luck, or intervention caused the plane to land on the other side of building, while feeling sympathy toward those who lost their lives in the crash and for their families. Mann has yet to learn whether he knew anyone who died in the crash. The names of victims were not released as of Friday. The only personal connection he has to someone who died in crash is TV commentator and attorney Barbara Olsen, (who was on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon) whom he met a couple of times.
“That’s the closest thing that struck home physically to someone I’ve met,” he said. “I’m not looking forward to hearing the names. I can’t watch TV.”
Mann also says that he felt comforted by the response from his friends in the jewelry industry.
“Fellow jewelers and friends from coast to coast have sent messages. Matt Runci, (Jewelers of America president and CEO) phoned from London where he’s stuck, a former worker who is in France called. A friend who is getting ready to deliver and is under watch called. It has been very comforting. There are other people who have been through far worse.”
The Mann family business has been intertwined with the Pentagon since the building’s beginnings in the 1940s. And the experience is unique.
The Pentagon is virtually a city within itself. With nearly 29,000 employees housed in 6.5 million gross feet of space, it requires a support operation that few businesses can supply, including a variety of concessions, such as banking services, dry cleaning and laundry services, a bookstore, and many other retail stores and services. It contains one of the nation’s first enclosed malls designed to serve a population in the 1940s and `50s that was pretty much stuck in the building for eight hours per day.
Following Work War II, Brian and Conrad’s father, David Mann, convinced the defense department to open a watch and watchband repair store in the Pentagon. The store opened in 1946, three years after the Pentagon was dedicated. At the time there was a shortage of watches and watchbands. The store provided repair service and sales. Today, David Mann Jewelers is full-service jewelry operation.
The mall was open to the general public until the 1980s when the threat of terrorism began. Today the store sells to those who work in the Pentagon, approved Pentagon contractors, and longtime customers who can get clearance to enter the Pentagon.
“My father started the business after the war,” Mann says. “We’re celebrating our 56th year and we’d like to be around a lot longer. The building is going to survive and we just have to deal with it.”
Of course things are a bit different right now, particularly when it comes to security. “Protective service used to be armed with a little revolver,” Mann says. “Now they’re armed with a gas masks and sub machine guns.”
By Friday, Mann was looking for to getting away for awhile.
“I’m on my way to take my family away for the weekend. Our little jewelers association is holding a get together on the Eastern Shore (of Maryland) that’s still being held. I’m kind of looking forward to it to ease my mind and my kids are looking forward to it,” he says. “I can’t watch TV.”