Business Is Up (Mostly), Jewelers Say

To gauge the current state of the U.S. retail jewelry
business, ?JCK spoke with a half-dozen jewelers, representing
different parts of the country, in late April and early May.

poll was prompted by signs that the U.S. economy is finally on a road to
recovery: In March, for example, sales of new homes rose 26.9
percent—the biggest monthly jump in 47 years—and 162,000 new jobs were

Judging by the comments from our interviewees, the retail
jewelry sector has joined the nascent economic renewal. Although
progress has been gradual—and one store, in Santa Fe, N.M., has yet to
see signs of improvement—all the retailers expressed confidence and
optimism that business will come back strong.

“Over the last
several months, traffic flow has increased,” says Sherri Erickson of Erickson
in Iron Mountain, Mich. “I can’t remember the last time I
heard anyone comment about their retirement or 401(k).” In April,
Erickson sold “the biggest ring I’ve ever sold in 17 years in the
business”: a custom design comprising 7.50 cts. t.w. diamonds and a 3.00
ct. center stone. She’s also aiming to beef up inventory. “I’m going to
the Vegas show with a plan to perhaps look for new vendors to carry,”
she says, adding that she’s especially interested in unique pieces. “I
have to remind myself to get those, because when I do, they sell. My
advice to myself: Do not be too cautious.”

Sales are slowly
improving at Bowman Jewelers in Johnson City, Tenn. Repairs
notwithstanding, “there’s not much increase in traffic,” reports
co-owner Bob Bowman. He predicts it will take “six months to a year” to
get back to normal.

But things are looking up in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Fincher
& Ozment
owner Tom Ozment Jr. attributes that to a combination
of factors: “more traffic, customers coming back, and people looking at
more expensive engagement settings.” Ozment had presciently predicted a
20 percent boost in business for 2010. “So far, year to date,” he says,
“we’re right on target.”

Dorman’s Jewelry in Altoona, Pa.,
recently closed the books on its “best March in a couple of years,” says
salesperson Karen Rieger. In fact, the Great Recession affected the
store pretty minimally. “It wasn’t a real bad time,” admits Rieger. “We
have a real good traffic flow, and repairs kept us going. Repairs were
actually going up because people during the recession weren’t
buying—they were fixing old.”

But not every store can be as lucky
as Dorman’s. Nancy Brown Custom Jeweler manager Adrienne Rommel
says Santa Fe, N.M., remains deep in recession. “I’m astounded at how
many storefronts are sitting empty in the heart of the shopping
district,” she says. “It’s something I’ve never seen. Santa Fe is
heavily dependent on tourist traffic, and people are not traveling the
way they used to.”

At Main Street Jewelers in ­Klamath
Falls, Ore., Pat Bowlby remains cautiously optimistic: “It’s better,” he
says. “But in relation to what it was, it’s still a struggle.” He’s
selling ­bigger-ticket items—an encouraging statistic for any store
owner. “Our per-unit is substantially higher than a year ago,” he
explains. “We actually have people that have money and are willing to
spend it.” (Remember—we said cautiously optimistic. While Bowlby
suspects that the local economy will stabilize by late summer or early
fall—good news for Oregonians—he also foresees the turnaround triggering
another problem for jewelers: “When the economy catches up with itself,
gold at $1,140 [per ounce] will seem like a bargain.”)

Even so,
Bowlby—like the other ­jewelers JCK spoke with—has faith in the
future. Jewelers “sell a bit of happiness. That’s not to be trifled