David Nygaard had been through a heart attack, a divorce, and a high-profile bankruptcy that reduced his seven-store jewelry chain to a one-store custom jeweler in Virginia Beach. Yet even after having been through all that, the morning of May 16 found him “terrified.”
That’s when an article appeared in his local newspaper, the Southside Daily, headlined, “Bankruptcy, a heart attack, coming out as gay: How a prominent Hampton Roads jeweler found his true self.”
The piece detailed not only Nygaard’s business and health struggles, but the father of six’s two-and-a-half-year relationship with another man and the reaction that’s received from his children, mother, and local church.
Nygaard knows his revelation isn’t all that shocking in 2017. But he still didn’t know how the local community would react.
“I have extreme conservatives who are clients of mine,” says Nygaard, who is a Christian. “I am in Virginia Beach, the home of Pat Robertson and The 700 Club. I know all those people.”
Originally, he says, the article was just supposed to chronicle his business comeback. But he realized it would be hard to truly tell his story without the personal aspect. Right before the interview, his PR person contacted the reporter and said he wanted the story to be about something more.
“I have always been very honest and transparent,” Nygaard says. “I was very honest about the bankruptcy, about my divorce. Hiding who you are has not been me. And yet, as I found myself in this relationship I tended to shy away from it. I really struggled with that. It’s not a comfortable place in the closet.
“I found it was time to stop hiding that aspect. When people would come into the store and say, ‘You’re divorced’ or ‘Are you dating somebody?’ I felt I kept dancing around it. My close circle of friends knew but I finally just thought maybe I just should put this out there. I just decided to rip the band-aid off.”
So far, he hasn’t heard any negative comments—“Some people have been silent,” he says. “I think that’s natural.” He would have been warier about doing this 15 years ago, but feels society’s changed.
But what’s surprised him is how many of how of his younger shoppers applauded him.
“The millennials that are shopping for engagement rings are very positive and supportive,” he says. “It has allowed me to connect in a fresh way to the young demographic. And as a custom jeweler, that’s the generation I want to connect with.”
The story also increased his contacts in the gay community and demonstrated the business potential in same-sex marriage.
“When you are in a gay relationship and you want a ring, you have a fear and trepidation going into a jewelry store,” he says. “You don’t know what your experience is going to be. You don’t know if it’s going to be like the wedding cake thing, [someone will say] we don’t want to do your ring. Many times they go online, it’s just easier.
“But look at the declining marriage rates among millennials. With the legalization of gay marriage, the LGBT community is getting married and engaged. That’s a whole new market that I think is important and is easy to overlook.”
We live in a high-tech age. Yet, we keep hearing, shoppers still want a human touch. They just don’t feel they get it in traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Nygaard feels articles like his are a way to cut through the clutter and make a personal connection with potential consumers.
“I would recommend that anyone who is involved in retail be authentic and honest and true to themselves as an expression of your business,” he says. “When I was at home and raising six kids, that was true. And when suddenly that wasn’t true, I needed to be true and authentic about that. You need to be honest and you need to take the kind of risks to let people know who you are.”
(Photo: Amy Poulter/Southside Daily)