I regularly check Google News for the latest about jewelers, and over the last year, store-closing stories have become depressingly familiar. In many cases, it isn’t just businesses that are closing, but local institutions: One store which shut had been open 134 years, and at least three others were in business for more than a century. In story after story, customers told the owners how much the store meant to them, how it serviced generations of their families, and how sad they were it was closing.
Yesterday, I reviewed these articles searching for common threads. In most cases, the owners just declared it was time to retire. But, it is also pretty clear that in many instances the jewelers wouldn’t be retiring if they were still making good money. Plus, the next generation did not want to carry on the business, and there is no prospective buyer who considers it an attractive business worth continuing.
This isn’t just anecdotal: Jewelers Board of Trade’s (JBT) third-quarter stats show business discontinuances jumping 83 percent, to 264. Diving into the data, the majority were either consolidations and closings; there were only seven bankruptcies, a low number historically.
“People are choosing not to go through the bankruptcy process,” says JBT president Dion Kenyon. “It’s expensive, and why do that if you don’t think you are going to come out the other side?”
In many cases, the business could have stuck around, but the jewelers just didn’t think it was worth it to carry on, she adds.
These closings seem to contradict two tenets of business faith. The first is: When weaker players drop out, the rest prosper. The retail sector has consolidated quite a bit, and it seems only to be driving further consolidation. Twenty years ago, many jewelers would have been happy to see local competitors fold their tents. But now there are so many alternate places to buy jewelry—Blue Nile, mass merchants, home shopping, etc.—the rest of the pie isn’t necessarily coming onto their plates.
The second: While our economy has clearly made strides since the dark days of 2008 and 2009, this rising tide isn’t lifting all boats. We saw this last month when we tallied Christmas sales. Some stores had record years and enjoyed sales jumps of 10, 20, or 30 percent or more; others didn’t.
Many retailers figured that if they hung on through the dark days of the recession, they would see prosperity at the end of the tunnel. But the increased competition from the Internet isn’t going away—if anything, it will increase. The decreased margins sparked by the Internet aren’t going away either. Being in business today means offering top-flight service, venturing into unfamiliar territory (i.e., social media), and carrying nontraditional products and services. And even then there are no guarantees. Business may now be easier than it was in the past few years, but it will keep being tough.
This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to prosper today; plenty of stores are doing great. But we are looking at a changing landscape. The industry will keep shrinking. At some point, the momentum may reverse itself, but we don’t seem to be at that point yet.
At the end of each year, some news agencies write in memoriam segments to remember all the people who died during the year. As we start 2015, perhaps we should take a moment to remember the jewelers who closed up over the past year.
So, here’s to (and this is far from a complete list): Trask Jewelers, Farmington, Maine; the Jewelry Exchange, Houston; Henry C. Reid & Son Jewelers, New Canaan, Conn.; Freeman Jewelers, Fort Wayne, Ind.; Cooper’s Jewelry, Easton, Mass.; Endris Jewelers, New Albany, Ind.; B. Freedman Jewelers, Huntington, N.Y.; Singer’s Jewelers, Albany, N.Y.; Liberty Jewelers, Malden, Mass.; Clark’s Fine Jewelers, Wichita, Kan.; Mark Holder Jeweller, Greensboro, N.C.; Molenaar Jewelry, Boise, Idaho; Galperin Jewelry, Charleston, W. Va.; Diamonds & Co., Saco, Maine; Barney Jette Jewelry Design, Missoula, Mont.; Sidney S. George & Sons, Marshall, Texas; Bowie’s Gold & Diamonds, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Jarrett the Jeweler, Mt. Pleasant, Mich.; Morstein’s Jewelers, Baltimore; Taylor’s Jewelry, South Williamson, Ky.; Sutherland’s Jewelry, Great Falls, Mont.; Karat Patch Jewelry, Charlotte, N.C.; Michael’s Jewelers, West Palm Beach, Fla.; Mo’s on Main, Annville, Pa.; JB&B Jewelers, Los Altos, Calif.; Prokop Jewelers, West Allis, Wisc.; Paul Carter Jewelers, Houston; McFarlin’s Jewelers, Amarillo, Texas; Dalin Jewelers, Elk Grove, Ill.; Rosco Jewelry, Irvington, Ind.; Cellar Workshop Jewelry by Sara Kennedy, Westport, Conn.; Lednum Jewelers, Cambridge, Md.; Vandegriff Jewelers, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; and R. Brooks Fine Jewelry, Walnut Creek, Calif.
One retailer, Karen Greaton, wrote a poem about her New Richmond, Wisc., store closing after 65 years. Here are the final lines:
I’m so sorry to be closingMy heart just breaks in twoI hope you’ve felt how much I’ve lovedBeing right here for you.