Jeweler Makes Headlines With Helping Hand

In January, Debbie Fox was just another person feeling powerless amid the headlines of mass layoffs and home foreclosures. But then the owner of Fox’s Fine Jewelers in Ventura, Calif., had an idea: Although no one could give her struggling neighbors their jobs or homes back, she at least could give them a piece of jewelry.

“We’ve been in this community for 10 years and we’ve done well,” she says. “I wanted to find a way to give back to it.”

Fox bought 200 silver necklaces. After wrapping and gift-boxing them, it cost her $2,000. Then she got the word out: Free necklaces for people who had lost their job or home. To qualify, they had to show proof they were out of work (generally an unemployment check) or proof of foreclosure and an ID.

The media, anxious for a feel-good story in these feel-bad times, latched on.

“A small thing ran in our local paper, and by that afternoon all three networks were here,” she says. “It became this symbol of hope. We were flooded with people. There was a line out the door and down the block. I got a lot of calls and e-mails from people who were so touched and grateful. We had to stop answering our phone for a while.”

She’s sure it helped her business, even if the end result can’t be quantified.

“I had one guy drive in from 45 minutes away to buy something,” she notes. “He said ‘I don’t need any jewelry. I just wanted to buy something.’ ”

Fox is such a firm believer in her idea that she’s convinced the Independent Jewelers Organization to roll it out nationally. So far 45 stores have signed up.