Brothers Jim and Tim Gannaway build a store in their shared image
Everything at GB Jewelers in Warrenton, OR, demands a second look: Its award-winning, custom-designed pieces, its eye-catching clock tower, even its owners. Perhaps especially its owners: Jim and Tim Gannaway are identical twins. They admit to confusing everyone else with their appearance and the accent they brought with them from St. Paul, MN. But their mission is perfectly clear.
They’ve been specializing in custom work since they wrecked their dad’s screwdriver chiseling agates out of the pavement behind the family home as 5-year-olds. By their high school years they were polishing and selling them as pendants.
“You can’t separate us from our designs,” Jim Gannaway declares.
The two have developed a store as singular as they are. GB Jewelers’ freestanding building beckons from the highway with its steeple structure. “It gives us instant identification. ‘Go to 101 and Marlin Ave and look for the clock tower,’” Jim Gannaway says.
The 30-foot clock tower was devised to work around Warrenton’s signage limitations, he explains: “We were only allowed by the city to have 100 square feet of signage. The clock tower serves as a kind of a sign.”
But perhaps best of all to its customers, its bell carillon options include the “Wedding March.” When a wedding set or engagement ring is purchased, the store plays it as the couple walks out.
The new location also escapes the erosion of serious foot traffic the two were beginning to see in strip malls. “We noticed through marketing surveys that the nature of strip malls was changing slowly. In the 1980s when we moved there, about 80 percent of the people when asked what reason they were here for, said shopping. By 1990 it was 20 percent,” Tim Gannaway says. “We decided this is crazy, paying mall prices, but marketing to be a destination.”
With long-term planning, they bought the land for a new store in 1998, and began designing the building in 2007 — just as the recession was winding up for its punch. But the Gannaways are determined and disciplined: To help pay taxes and the mortgage when they bought their first store in 1974, Tim Gannaway spent his summers working on a fishing boat while his brother ran the business.
The Gannaways knew what they wanted to avoid, including “the long, skinny shape” of mall stores.
They also wanted a facility they were proud of. “We didn’t want to put a lot of money into interiors in our other location. … In malls, you put six digits into your remodel and they jack up the rent, so we could never really make it look nice,” Jim Gannaway remembers.
Their first store made it clear to the people of Warrentown that the brothers from Minnesota were here to stay. But the new store is so impressive, they believe, that it makes an even stronger statement of commitment to the community.
It was not easy to find an architect with their vision; one of three, they remember, presented them with a Swiss chalet — in Scandinavian-heritage Oregon. They finally found a design-build company that allowed them to shape the components. It was a project that was nearly seven years in the making; the new GB Jewelers opened in 2014, six years after its name was shortened from Gannaway Bros.
Jewelers to begin streamlining the brand.“We designed a big open area in the center, which is pretty unconventional,” Jim Gannaway says. “When people come in they don’t feel overwhelmed or trapped or pressured.
“We still have our sales staff behind the counter. But when you come in, we come out from behind the counter and shake hands.”
GB Jewelers uses a mahogany-toned Formica-and-wood blend cabinetry designed for them by JMJ Inc. that they’re delighted with, both in service and price. It looks elegant, but is wipe-clean easy. “We wanted to be making jewelry, not maintaining a store,” Jim Gannaway explains.
The two were also single-minded about lighting.
“Customers comment about it when they walk in: ‘This is so nice — your lighting is just incredible.’ We spent two to three months searching for just the right bulbs. We kept on file all the articles we read on lighting. We kept all the numbers. We got our own light meter,” recalls Tim Gannaway. Eventually their electrician had to order lights from a specialty company.
“Most stores put lights right over the counter and they reflect in customers’ eyes. We put ours just a little back from the counter,” he says. The lighting is carefully designed and aimed so there’s the same number of foot candles on the jewelry outside the counter as on the inside. There’s no disappointing dimming of a diamond’s sparkle with that approach.
The two still design and manufacture close to 20 percent of their jewelry on the premises. Prize winners include a pendant pin of the Northwest’s famous Haystack Rock, shaped in opal with a natural dendrite inclusion and a wash of gold Pacific and sun around it. It won the Best of Show among Pacific Northwest Jewelers.
The Gannaways design for men as well as women, with a masculine 22-karat yellow gold Superman ring among their inspirations. The two say they design for a changing jewelry market: “We’re expanding our demographic from men buying for women,” Tim Gannaway says.
There are comfortable chairs, which could at some point hold customers waiting for service. Warrenton’s neighbor across the Oregon 101 bridge, Astoria, is a repositioning port for cruise lines, and GB Jewelers is a potential stop on a planned cruise buses’ route into Warrenton.
And then there are The Goonies fans. The 1985 comedy was filmed near Warrenton, and its cult-like following brings visitors from everywhere. The Gannaway Brothers had made jewelry pieces to honor its actors, and they remember fans packed the store for the 30th anniversary.
The store created “doublooms” — named for the kids’ pronunciation of doubloons in the film— and could have used twice as many, both say. Antique brass finish and sterling silver quickly sold out. With its federalist brick façade and white columns, the sparkling GB store is a long way from the brothers’ humble beginnings in a storefront with no jeweler’s bench and no safe.
FIVE COOL THINGS ABOUT GB Jewelers
➤ 1. Craggy cachet: GB Jewelers’ location in the Pacific Northwest means there are a lot of loggers and commercial fishermen and they market to that group with a good selection of men’s jewelry. Stars from reality shows about the rugged life on the Discovery and History channels shop at GB: “You know Deadliest Catch and Ax Men? They’re our customers,” Jim Gannaway says.
➤ 2. Lifelong students: “Whenever we went on a business trip, we’d go knocking on the biggest diamond doors to learn what we could,” says Jim Gannaway. Their assertiveness has won them tours of Harry Winston Diamond Corp., a diamond-trading discussion with expert Martin Rapaport and a fortuitous seat with a trader as he received a selection of pink diamonds.
➤ 3. “Local” rules: Jim and Tim Gannaway were in Warrenton long before big-box stores, but now they face six, plus a second jewelry store as competitors. They’ve made their local customer service a selling point. They stamp their custom-designed rings with “Made in Warrenton,” appealing to visitors as well as residents, and have a collection featuring the Pacific Northwest mammoth, musk ox and bald eagle.
➤ 4. They take risks: The Gannaways brought in Pandora, even though they weren’t sure whether it would fit into their mix. “We got more Canadian traffic in one year than since we’d opened our doors,” Jim Gannaway recalls. They have also been proponents of colored diamonds “long before they were popular.”
➤ 5. Double magnetism: The brothers were determined to open a store in Warrenton, but with a foreclosure from Tim’s first partner on their record, they couldn’t get bank credit. To their surprise, a stranger they knew only as a fellow coffee drinker in a local café became impressed with their work ethic and offered them a $50,000 loan.
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