When a jeweler’s store is robbed, a nearby colleague steps up to help.

Each year, our December Real Deal tells a story that helps bring to mind the amazing privilege and camaraderie afforded us by our industry, and that reminds us why we do what we do. This year, we are honored now to share the story of Jeff Bean of M.A. Laurie Jewelers and his effort to help a local competitor, Joel Jaffe of Amherst Jewelers, in his time of need.

The Jaffe family opened Jaffe Jewelers in Niagara Falls, NY, in 1941. After nearly 50 years of operation, Joel Jaffe and his wife Brenda made the decision to move their now second-generation family business a short distance away to a small strip center in East Amherst, a town recognized as being among the safest municipalities in the country. Since then, Joel and Brenda have spent more than 25 years nurturing and growing Amherst Jewelers, offering traditional quality and service while winning the respect and trust of their community. Then, this past July, the unthinkable happened.

On Monday morning, July 24, Joel arrived at his store and saw immediately that something was not right with the door lock. It was jammed, with half of the mechanism broken away. He noticed similar damage to the locks on the doors of the businesses on either side of his as well.

He borrowed a large screwdriver from a neighbor and pried the door open. Everything seemed fine in the showroom. The empty cases were all intact. (Joel had long made it a policy to store everything of value in his safe while the store was closed.) It wasn’t until he walked into the back room that he realized what had happened. He found himself staring at a gaping, 5-foot hole in the wall between his store and the next-door nail salon. He then saw the 2-foot square that had been cut out of the wall of his safe.

The entire contents of the safe — over $300,000 in gold, coins and inventory — was gone.

An Amherst police official described the burglary as “sophisticated and slick — not your average in-and-out smash and grab.”

“It’s like you see in the movies. These guys knew what they were doing,” said Joel.

“I was breathless,” Joel said. “I didn’t know what to say...”

Sometime between dusk on Sunday and daybreak on Monday, the thieves cut the wires to the store’s power supply at the utility pole near the street and managed to disable an alarm system that both Joel and the local police investigator believe was faulty. They covered the exterior lights at the back of the building with black spray paint to keep the building in the dark and to obscure the view of any observant residents in the neighborhood behind the strip center. Police estimated that the burglars spent about two hours inside the store and left nothing of significant value behind.

Covering the immediate cost of repair to the store and replacement merchandise presented an overwhelming challenge. Joel was able to reopen in the week after the theft, but was limited to selling from a small selection of leftover silver items and handling service customers. “We were selling just enough to buy spaghetti,” he said. “It broke my heart to have to turn away a man looking for a nice diamond ring for his anniversary. We were open, but I didn’t have a single thing to show him.”

As word of the burglary got out, long-time vendors started to call with offers of memo goods and extended terms to help Joel get back up and running. He was moved by their generosity, but was constantly aware of his responsibility to pay them back. He knew that his customers would remain loyal, but he was not terribly confident that the store would make enough through the Christmas season to repay a large debt.

When Jeff Bean, longtime industry associate and owner of M.A. Laurie Jewelers in Williamsville — about 10 miles from Joel’s Amherst Jewelers store — heard about the theft, he was appalled. “We were just heartbroken when this whole thing happened,” Bean said. He decided that he and his team needed to do something to help, so he reached out to Joel with an idea.

On August 25 and 26, just a month after the burglary, M.A, Laurie hosted a “Friends of Amherst Jewelers” sale event at their store. “We essentially gave Joel the store for the weekend,” Bean said. All proceeds from sales were given directly to Joel and Brenda, helping them to replenish inventory and get their store back in operating mode.

The Jaffes were more than touched by the gesture. “I was breathless,” Joel said. “I didn’t know what to say. Everything they did was first-class — from the invitations they sent to our customers and to theirs to the food and drink they served.” Longtime customers of both stores and even people in the community who had never shopped with either store before came in to be a part of it. The money raised during the event went a long way toward buying the peace of mind Joel and Brenda Jaffe needed to face the upcoming holiday season.

Jeff found it interesting that when the local media picked up the story, they characterized him as a “competitor” rather than a colleague. The stores are a good distance apart, with many other stores — some much larger — between them.

“We did it because it was the right thing to do,” said Jeff. “In a time when ‘division’ seems to dominate our industry, our social narrative and news cycles, it was an opportunity for the community to come together and help out a couple who’d lost nearly everything they had. It was wonderful to meet and talk to Joel and Brenda’s clients — to discover relationships that have existed for years and spanned generations — with everyone all eager to help.” What a novel idea …

Amherst Jewelers is back, and Joel and Brenda Jaffe are looking forward to a strong and prosperous holiday season — thanks to the help and support of their friend and colleague Jeff Bean, their customers and the Amherst community.


This article originally appeared in the December 2017 edition of INSTORE.