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Second-Generation Owners Devise Creative Corporate Culture That Propels Business Success




Von Bargen’s Jewelry, Stowe, VT

OWNERS: Jason Thom and Julie Von Bargen-Thom; ; FOUNDED: 1978; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014; EMPLOYEES: 4 at Stowe; 26 total; AREA: 1,800 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Alex Sepkus, Todd Reed, Paul Morelli and Mark Patterson; ONLINE PRESENCE:: 3,122 Facebook Likes; 4.5 Stars on Yelp.; BUILDOUT COST: $200 per
square foot; STORE DESIGN: Gensler; ARCHITECT AND BUILDER:: Cushman Design Group, Sisler Builders

Do Good, and You’ll Do Well

IT’S A SIMPLE philosophy, but one that Jason Thom and Julie Von Bargen-Thom have embraced. As the second-generation owners of Von Bargen’s Jewelry, the couple is building on the tradition started by Julie’s late parents three decades ago, even as they find fresh ways to stay on trend and in touch with the changing needs of their clients. The company has five locations in Vermont, including the newest location in Stowe.

Forging strong relationships with their customers — and employees — is all part of the Thoms’ strategy.


“Our vision is very simple,” Jason says. “To leave the world a better place.”

Joining the Family

It wasn’t love at first sight for Jason and Julie. But it was close.

In 2002, Jason attended a Von Bargen family reunion. Jason was a longtime friend of the family, but had never met Julie or her parents, John and Leslie Von Bargen, who founded the first Von Bargen’s Jewelry in 1978. Within three months of meeting, Jason and Julie were engaged.

At the time, Jason was in retail consulting for big-box stores. Julie was finishing up a degree at Dartmouth College. She’d been raised in the family business, and even learned how to make jewelry from her father.

By the end of 2003, Julie and Jason assumed their roles as the new heads of Von Bargen’s Jewelry with the opening of a new store in Hanover, NH.


The Thoms set out to establish their own corporate culture, shaped by — of all things — a book on food: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan probes the problems with the American diet. After reading it, the Thoms found themselves taking a hard look at how they were living overall. They challenged themselves to improve, Jason explains, but realized that as business owners, they couldn’t simply leave that challenge at home.

“When you own a business, it is your life,” Jason says. “We wanted it to have a positive meaning.”

The Thoms decided that part of that positive meaning included cultivating a workplace where team members could shine. One of their newest initiatives is Von Bargen’s University, a professional self-training module focusing on essential aspects of their business. The concept is the brainchild of Jill Zborovancik, the Stowe manager.

Jason points to a time in American commerce when every shop was a mom-and-pop, and the employees were strongly invested in the success of the business. Now, he believes too many retail companies are sta ed by people who have not been encouraged by management to take risks, innovate and maybe even make a mistake that could teach them something valuable.

Jason calls that mentality “clerking, not working,” and it’s what Von Bargen’s is out to avoid, preferring to attract employees who want to develop personally and professionally. Jason says the Thoms encourage their employees to leave their community a better place, even as they strive to achieve their own dreams and goals.

That has meant giving their team members a chance to explore new ways to invest in the community they serve.


Sabrina Leonard, a team member in the Von Bargen’s Hanover store, was volunteering with a charity of personal importance when she learned there were women who wanted to donate estate jewelry to local causes, but lacked the know-how and resources to do so. She stepped up to help, and the result is Jewels for Joy, a program where Von Bargen’s appraises and facilitates the sale or auction of unwanted jewelry so it can be donated to worthy organizations. “We let someone take something and run with it, and it turned out to be a great thing,” he says. “We have a mechanism or another way to sell jewelry for people in a positive way that helps the community.”

The company also grants an allowance to team members looking to grow outside the store in ways that might ultimately bene t the shop. One team member pitched the Thoms on paying for her Zumba instructor training, and they agreed. Now, Jason notes that employee is not just healthy and fit; when she’s teaching, she’s also a Von Bargen’s ambassador in the bargain. “The proudest thing Julie and I have accomplished is this culture that we’ve empowered our team to think like entrepreneurs,” he says.

Julie agrees. She adds that strong client relationships are essential. After all, jewelry easily can be bought online, but in a business that’s built around milestones such as weddings, birthdays and anniversaries, people often long for a human connection. Listening is key to forming that connection, and that’s a talent Julie says she inherited from her mother, Leslie, who died in 2012 (followed by John earlier this year). “She authentically
enjoyed learning about them,” Julie says.

And So, to Stowe

With the hanover store established and their new corporate philosophy squarely in place, it was time for the Thoms to kick back, relax and coast for a bit.

Well, not exactly.

Soon, the couple was eyeing a spot in Stowe. They found a building that seemed ideal: an old house they planned to renovate. But once begun, the plan had to be scrapped and the house demolished. Undefeated, the Thoms began again, with the mission of creating a Von Bargen’s that blended seamlessly into Stowe’s postcard-perfect New England cityscape. The couple worked with Stowe-based Cushman Design Group on the project.

“I think we hit a home run,” Jason says. “People come in and feel like this store has been in Stowe since the beginning of Stowe.”

The store had its first sale shortly before Christmas 2014, and its o cial grand opening in February 2015.

While the exterior fits with Stowe’s style, the contemporary interior is equally in sync with what Jason describes as the understated tastes of their Vermont customers. Von Bargen’s clients appreciate high quality — the Thoms reject about 38 percent of the ideal-cut diamonds sent to them — but they are not dazzled by big bling, Jason says. While the other Von Bargen’s stores feature glitzy, crystal chandeliers to light clients on their way to the jewelry showcases, the Stowe store welcomes them with custom-made drum-shaped light fixtures from Vermont lighting company Hubbardton Forge.

Finding that happy medium for the community and the client is merely another way of bringing their life philosophy into their business.

“Everything we do, we ask, how far away is it from our mission and vision, how far away is it from the customer, how far away is it from ourselves,” he said.

ONLINE EXTRA: 5 Questions with Jason and Julie Thom

1. What’s one jewelry trend that excites you?
Clients’ interest in unique and one-of-a-kind artisan jewelry. Our best clients aren’t looking to have what everyone else has. They want to see and select something unexpected and uncommon, rather than mass market. — Julie

2. What’s something you’ve learned recently?
We had a customer commission a 7-inch-tall, 3-D leapin’ 18K gold frog. This project challenged our studio to think differently about how to manufacturer large-scale fine jewelry. Managing the client’s timeframe expectations went a long way to keep the process fun and not too demanding on the studio. Don’t let one big project shipwreck your weekly bread-and-butter operations. — Jason”

3. What’s the best compliment a client has ever given you?
“I shop with you because of how you curate your jewelry collection. And because of you.” — Julie

4. Who is your hero and why?
Everyone is fighting some kind of battle, and it’s important to recognize individuals that can get up every day with that fight and still find a way to have a good day. These people are my heroes. — Jason


5. What’s your perfect day look like?
Early morning time with my daughter. Yoga practice or a run. A full day of work, including interacting with best clients, spending time thoughtfully on our business and engaging with my team on the little fires and on the bigger picture. Then heading north to my favorite place, Lake Willoughby, for a family evening. — Julie

Five Cool Things About Von Bargen’s Jewelry

1. BE OUR GUEST. When the Thoms built the Stowe store, they had the foresight to finish the building’s upstairs as a cozy apartment. They’ve already donated the residence to several local charity events, pairing the stay with a Von Bargen’s gift certificate and
a welcome present of the beloved Vermont beer, Heady Topper. The couple also plans to lend it to visiting vendors and high-level clients.

2. A CLASSIC CASE. How jewelry is displayed is almost as important as the jewels themselves. That’s why in Von Bargen’s, cherry wood showcases were handcrafted in Underhill, VT. The custom cases have an operational component, too, with retractable legs and removable trays designed to fit neatly into the vault.

3. BACK IN THE BEGINNING. We love origin stories, and this one’s pretty darn cool. In 1975, John Von Bargen popped the question to his love, Leslie. Then he made another announcement: He was going to take $400 in tools and materials and become a jeweler. Not only that, he promised to have a paycheck by the weekend. (Which he did: $200.) The rest,
as they say, is cool store history.

4. TAKE THE V-LINE. In keeping with the Thoms’ philosophy of encouraging entrepreneurship in employees, the company recently introduced the V-Line. The jewelry is the brainchild of
Ali Dumont, a manager in the Von Bargen’s Burlington store, who brought her designs to the Thoms before handing them off to an inhouse jeweler to bring them to life.

5. WHO’S THAT DOG?. About five years ago, Jason and Julie Thom turned to local photographer Chris Mazzarella for
help in their print advertising. The Thoms decided to use Von Bargen team members rather than professional models. Ultimately, even Mazzarella’s pregnant wife and family dog took their turn in front of the camera, too.


  • Brandee Dallow: The crisp, clean, classy and rich interior of Von Bargen’s is what makes it cool — and all of this perfectly complements the cool and snowy environment that is Vermont.
  • Debbie Fox:  Their website has powerful videos that speak to people’s emotions and life’s realities; Von Bargen’s personality is about being real and caring as opposed to being perfect and polished.
  • Becky Stone:  Von Bargen’s exudes a warm, genuine feeling — everything from the classic design of the storefront to the thoughtfully designed display cases and the fact that the store’s advertisements feature only staff members, not models, reveals an authenticity that makes Von Bargen’s feel trustworthy. The overall branding creates an impression of friendliness without sacrificing dignity or elegance. I love the idea of “buying fewer, better things.”
  • Todd Reed:  This story is a truly great one: a life of love and passion from John and Leslie down to Jason and Julie. They care so much about their community and their staff and family of designers.



Gene the Jeweler

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America's Coolest Stores

America’s Coolest Stores 2019 – Winners Revealed!




Check out America’s Coolest Jewelry Stores of 2019!

Congratulations to the winners of the 18th annual America’s Coolest Stores Contest! In the following pages — and in the months ahead — discover why these stores earned the stamp of approval from our judges. As in past years, we divided the entries into two categories — Big Cool (six or more full-time employees) and Small Cool (five or fewer). We asked two six-member teams of judges to evaluate stores based on their back story, interior, exterior, marketing, online presence and what we here at INSTORE believe is the most important intangible: individuality.

Our six America’s Coolest and additional 10 Cool Stores — each of which will be featured in INSTORE issues through June 2019 — represent creative approaches to doing business as well as aesthetically pleasing retail environments. Each of the six winning stores also offers an omni-channel shopping experience, with merchandise available for purchase online.

If you haven’t taken the time to enter yet, why not give it a shot in January 2020? Retailers have told us that the entry process alone can be inspiring and motivating because it requires them to assess all aspects of their businesses. And if you entered and weren’t chosen this time, fine-tune your entry and try again. That’s proven to be a winning strategy.

Check out America’s Coolest
Jewelry Stores of 2019!

Congratulations to the winners of the 18th annual America’s Coolest Stores Contest! In the following pages — and in the months ahead — discover why these stores earned the stamp of approval from our judges. As in past years, we divided the entries into two categories — Big Cool (six or more full-time employees) and Small Cool (five or fewer). We asked two six-member teams of judges to evaluate stores based on their back story, interior, exterior, marketing, online presence and what we here at INSTORE believe is the most important intangible: individuality.

Our six America’s Coolest and additional 10 Cool Stores — each of which will be featured in INSTORE issues through June 2019 — represent creative approaches to doing business as well as aesthetically pleasing retail environments. Each of the six winning stores also offers an omni-channel shopping experience, with merchandise available for purchase online.

If you haven’t taken the time to enter yet, why not give it a shot in January 2020? Retailers have told us that the entry process alone can be inspiring and motivating because it requires them to assess all aspects of their businesses. And if you entered and weren’t chosen this time, fine-tune your entry and try again. That’s proven to be a winning strategy.

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America's Coolest Stores

Here Are This Year’s America’s Coolest Store Honorable Mentions

These 10 stores will be featured over the next year in INSTORE.




Big Cool Honorable Mentions

Day’s Jewelers

Nashua, NH

The Coreys

Jeff and Kathy Corey opened a 5,000-square-foot destination store, their eighth location, in 2018. With updated branding and imagery, the store design grabs millennials’ attention while maintaining a reputation for representing fine jewelry. A two-story vestibule creates a transparent glass wall along its curved exterior, establishing a theme that carries throughout the casework and ceiling. The curves create a free-flowing traffic pattern that leads patrons throughout the interior while also maximizing linear-display space.

John Atencio

Lone Tree, CO

John Atencio

Jewelry designer John Atencio’s sixth store was designed to create a visually compelling and luxurious experience while maximizing display space within a 600-square-foot footprint. The most striking aspect of the location is the large, transparent facade crafted from oversize panes of tempered glass. From the outside, the store looks sleek and inviting, and inside, the space is flooded with natural light.

Provident Jewelry

Jupiter, FL

Geoff Fear, Rob Samuels, Nick Linca, Seth Berman, Scott Diament

Owners Seth Berman, Scott Diament, Nick Linca and Robert Samuels teamed up to create a Dream Factory luxury lounge inside their flagship location. Clients can mingle, relax and enjoy a cocktail for a memorable in-store experience. Custom experiences for clients extend far beyond the store’s walls and have included test driving one-of-a-kind cars, meeting the CEOs behind watch brands, racing a car at YAS Marina Circuit, golfing with pro golfers, sailing on the America’s Cup committee boat in Bermuda and flying to Switzerland to tour a watch factory.


Princeton, NJ

Hamilton owners

Under the leadership of owner Martin Siegel and store manager Lea D’Onofrio, H1912 is part of the Hamilton Jewelers family of brands. It’s on the same street in the same small town as one of its parent locations of Hamilton Jewelers, but since its 2015 inception, it’s carved out a niche for itself that it backs up with a cutting-edge website, charity partnerships and a digital-first marketing plan. The 1912 in its name references the year Hamilton was founded and plays up the vintage angle of its inventory. H1912 buyers travel to estate shows, antique shows and auctions to handpick one-of-a-kind vintage pieces. Every vintage item at H1912 is refinished, refurbished, polished, or overhauled in-house before hitting the showcase.

Mitchum Jewelers

Ozark, MO

Mitchum jewelers

Mitchum Jewelers, owned by Randy Mitchum, doubled its size in 2018 in an upscale renovation orchestrated by store designer Jesse Balaity of Balaity Property Enhancement. One eye-catching element of the new building is the illuminated diamond prominently displayed on the building’s exterior. Mitchum has also set itself apart marketing-wise with a hugely successful TV commercial campaign that features customer testimonials. Use of the slogan “Your Jeweler For Life” in all of Mitchum’s ads has added to the branding surge, as has a related jingle that customers love to sing whenever they happen to run into Randy.

Small Cool Honorable Mentions

Yaf Sparkle

New York, NY

Yaf Boye-Flaegel

This is the second Lower East Side location and second America’s Coolest Stores Award for Yaf Sparkle, owned by Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel. When the couple moved into the new spot and peeled off layers of cement, they were excited to find old bricks in good condition crowned by an arched brick ceiling. They added a wooden floor and brought in furniture made of reclaimed wood for a vintage rustic look. The neighborhood is full of life and excitement, to which Yaf Sparkle contributes by spreading glitter across the sidewalk outside the store. Marketing benefits from an in-house photo studio. Customers have voted Yaf Sparkle as among the top three shopping experiences in New York City on Trip Advisor.

JC Jewelers

Jackson Hole, WY

Jan and Jeter Case

Jan and Jeter Case greet visitors from all over the world in their 240-square-foot log-cabin showroom in a gateway town to the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Three to 4 million people visit the area every year, and of those, about 1 million are from China. They’ve gone to great lengths to be hospitable, learning Mandarin phrases and labeling gemstones with translations. They also use Google Translate to communicate with non-English speakers. These efforts have gone a long way, they say, toward making international guests feel comfortable.

Malka Diamonds & Jewelry

Portland, OR

David and Ronnie Malka

Malka Diamonds & Jewelry, owned by David and Ronnie Malka, is a 1,000-square-foot boutique shop in downtown Portland that specializes in engagement and wedding jewelry. David is a graduate gemologist, who enjoys educating clients in a no-pressure atmosphere. The shop also highlights the work of two master jewelers on site. The store houses a collection of modern designs, antique and vintage jewelry and unconventional options, such as salt-and-pepper, rose-cut and unique-shaped diamonds. The store is bolstered by a cheerful staff and robust digital presence.

Talisman Collection

El Dorado Hills, CA

Andrea Riso

With a 3,300-square-foot showroom, this Small Cool store lives large! Owner Andrea Riso designed the floor plan to accommodate wide-open spaces, plenty of seating and a meandering river-style path that creates a sense of discovery. Décor is surrealistic and includes massive blown-glass fixtures, a library-lounge man cave, a tech oasis for kids, a bar and interactive areas that engage and enchant people of all ages. They’re known for designing and rendering original custom pieces for clients within 48 hours, as well as offering the custom-design services of 78 independent designer brands represented in the store.

Welling & Co. Jewelers

West Chester, OH

Bill and Daniel Welling

Father and son owners Bill and Daniel Welling built a modern, industrial-style jewelry store on a well-traveled road between Cincinnati and Dayton, in Ohio’s booming Butler County. The family-owned store, founded in 1920, makes its most recent home in a hangar built in the 1940s by a pilot to house a folding-wing airplane. Interior designer Leslie McGwire retained original interior brick from the building to set the tone for the renovation, which is complemented by an open slate-gray painted ceiling and a textured wood plank floor. A wide range of merchandise and price points adds to the welcoming ambience.

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America's Coolest Stores

Nautical-Themed Vancouver Store Finds Room for Imagination

A more relaxed Erik Runyan Jewelers is rejuvenated in its new location.



BIG COOL 1ST PLACE: Erik Runyan Jewelers, Vancouver, WA

Finding Their Sea Legs

Erik and Leslie Runyan feel at home in a new store with nautical notes and a casual ambience.

OWNERS: Erik & Leslie Runyan | URL: | FOUNDED: 1917 | OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017 | EMPLOYEES: 11 | AREA: 2,350 square feet | BUILDOUT COST: $300,000 | ARCHITECT: Wilson Associates Architects | DESIGN FIRM: Strong Associates | TOP BRANDS: Gabriel & Co., Mark Schneider, Bergio | ONLINE PRESENCE: 873 Facebook likes, 735 Instagram followers, 4.9 stars with 22 Google reviews

TO HAVE YOUR SEA LEGS is to be able to walk calmly and steadily on a tossing ship, or to become accustomed to a new or strange situation. For Erik Runyan, a licensed ship captain and fourth-generation jeweler, being at sea is natural. And being able to express himself in his new store has made him ready to navigate the vicissitudes of a changing jewelry market that unsettles many a mid-career jeweler.

He and his wife, Leslie, have found their sea legs at work.

Runyan is not a suit-and-tie kind of a guy at heart. So after spending decades buttoned-up, figuratively and literally, the couple let their personalities shine through when they moved to their new Main Street location in Vancouver, WA. They hunted for and then hung a canoe upside down from the ceiling, and it became a chandelier. They flooded the space with natural light. They played music they like, including Lyle Lovett, Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash and Van Morrison. They celebrated customers’ special occasions with their own wine label. And one day, Erik announced that he was finished with a business-attire dress code and began wearing jeans and polo shirts to work. Leslie was happy to follow suit.

If you want to be current today, you have to be old to be new. Our interpretation of the space as nautical took off like a ball of fire.

Although the previous location, where they’d been since 1991, was just blocks away, it was considered a more established commercial area, so moving to a new place seemed risky to some observers. “I had worked there all my life,” Runyan says. The store was beautiful, in a 1980s kind of way with oak cases, a false ceiling and brass track lights. “In my mind it was a proper 1980s mall jewelry store,” Runyan says. It was beginning to show wear, however, and although they had attempted to remodel, it just wasn’t working.

And then, with a new store in the works, Erik lost his father, Steve, just months before the move, making the transition seem even more of a significant milestone. “He was steadfast in his work, and came in every day until his passing. His jubilant spirit still surrounds the place,” Erik says.


The new location is at the forefront of an unprecedented $2 billion Vancouver waterfront revitalization that has brought restaurants, wine-tasting rooms and nightlife to downtown.

The big brick building with 18-foot ceilings and lots of natural light beckoned to Runyan when it was being built out by family friends. “I walked in and I was blown away by all the wood on the ceiling and the height of it,” he says. “If you want to be current today, you have to be old to be new. Urban lofty is what people are looking for. We took the space, and because of my quirky background, it just organically happened. Our interpretation of the space as nautical took off like a ball of fire.”

That ball of fire was set in motion once they had found a canoe to purchase and Steve Strong of Strong Construction crafted it into a chandelier. After that, it was natural to install a galley coffee center under the stairs, to hang a ship wheel on the wall and make sure it actually spins, and to greet customers with an exotic-wood compass rose inlaid in the floor near the entrance. Other nautical notes include plank wood flooring, a “welcome aboard” sign, and visibly marked latitude and longitude coordinates.

The store is adjacent to the Columbia River, and the canoe is a powerful symbol for Runyan, for several reasons. The river and access to the ocean created the city of Vancouver and still define both the city and the store. When not running the store, Runyan can be found crewing aboard motor yachts from Mexico to Canada, as a licensed Merchant Marine 100-ton captain.

Erik and Leslie also tracked down the magnificent early 20th century Queen Anne ball-and-leg jewelry cases that Erik’s dad had discovered in Butte, MT, on vacation and used in the family store in the 1980s. When the 1991 store was built, those cases didn’t fit the space or the motif, and so were donated to a museum, and when the museum closed, the cases were mothballed. “We got them back and found craftsmen to refurbish them,” Erik says. He had complementary cases hand-built for the middle of the store by a carpentry shop, creating a cohesive look.

The company’s original cash register and safe look comfortable, too, in a store loaded with digital accoutrements and laser welders.

Staff members Kelsey Price, left, and Conor McHale enjoy the natural light on a June afternoon.

The combination of well-made furnishings and the lofty atmosphere set clients at ease, including young engagement ring shoppers who bring new energy. “Bridal drives it. That’s the first purchase. Between bridal and estate, that’s how I’m making a living,” Runyan says. “We purposely built it to be a more casual environment and to interest the next generation. Having food and drink and a comfortable environment, social media and digital platforms are all important.”

Along with eschewing business attire, Erik and Leslie have improved the quality of life for themselves and their staff by closing on Sundays and Mondays. “We had been open six days a week for 101 years. So the routine I was used to was Monday to Friday, 10 to 5:30 and 10 to 3 on Saturday, but I couldn’t get happy with that here,” he says. So they began closing Sunday and Monday, and now are open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. “I’ve made a lot of decisions in 30 years or so, and that was the best choice at a personal level, a quality of life level. We really enjoy that. Being happy at the end of the day creates a better result, and Saturday has become an important day for us in the business.”

Erik’s great-grandfather, W.L., started the business from a watch bench in the bus depot in the early 1900s, where the Pacific Coast Highway stopped at the Columbia River for the ferry crossing. In 1917, Runyan’s Jewelers was born.

The store is fun for Leslie and me. It’s an absolute rejuvenation. With a new environment, it feels like I almost have a new job.

“My first memories of the family business are looking out the windows of our house to see my impeccably dressed grandparents, who were our neighbors, headed off to work,” Erik says. “The jewelry store seemed to be a magical place. The first generation used watch repair to sustain the store; the second, William, used business skills to create a viable modern jewelry company; the third, Steve, was a trained bench jeweler who focused on the shop. Now it’s my turn. As the fourth, I’ve focused on diamonds, custom work, and Internet marketing. Certainly W.L. Runyan could not have imagined his great-grandson introducing the family business to the world over the Internet.

“This new store, built using century-old techniques, is the culmination of four generations and 100 years, and has been relocated back to its original neighborhood, in conjunction with its 100-year anniversary.”


Erik describes the business as a living piece of history ready to move into its second century of business.

“Embrace change,” he says. “People — and my customers are no exception — resist change. It has taken time getting them accustomed to finding us at 501 Main. My payoff comes when they walk in the front door ready to complain about their ‘cheese being moved,’ but then stand there at the front door and start to smile and then audibly sigh, saying, ‘OK, now I get it!’”

“The store is fun for Leslie and me,” he says. “It’s an absolute rejuvenation. With a new environment, it feels like I almost have a new job. It’s made a difference. Life’s gotten a little better.”

Judges’ Comments

Benjamin Guttery: They really embrace their history and surroundings. From the nautical compass inlaid in the floor when you walk in, to the custom canoe chandelier (that has a hashtag and campaign around it: #underthecanoe), you know you’re in the Pacific Northwest. Again, the theme of today’s “coolest big stores in North America” is think, act, and be local minded.

Elle Hill: Love it! This is a COOL store. The rustic warm wood, the canoe light fixture, the feel of this man and how he loves the water can all be felt from the website to the store interior to the marketing materials. This is the type of authenticity all retailers should strive for!

Michael Roman: I like the history behind the Queen Anne display cases and the ornamental compass rose. Creating a wine label to promote business is a nice tie-in to the wine events held within the store.

Bob Phibbs: I love the sense of place in this location with the canoe chandelier as well as the refurbishing of the fixtures. The out-of-the-box idea of the wine and opening it with shoppers as well as sending it home is very creative. The online is a great mix of education and product.

Mark Tapper: The canoe chandelier is just so cool and so connected with the nautical theme of the store and the community.



1 Under the canoe. It’s the store’s tagline. and event theme. The canoe symbol is also used in ERJ’s advertising and social media. Erik has designed a canoe-motif necklace, as well, which will be made in sterling silver as well as in gold.

2 Proprietary wine. A wine label is part of the ERJ branding plan. “It gives me great pleasure to open and share a bottle with a customer or send them home with some to enjoy later,” Runyan says. They also introduced Wine Wednesdays, when light appetizers and local seasonal wines are used to create a fun and casual environment, under the canoe.

3 Reinvented inventory. The inventory is a mix of bridal, diamonds, custom and estate. Beyond that, the Runyans look for jewelry that isn’t found anywhere else. “There’s something unique about it that drives me to want to buy it,” Runyan says. “Prior to 2008, we had zero estate jewelry. It was 2010 or 2011 that I started acknowledging that it existed and that helped tremendously. Fifty percent of sales were lost during the recession and we had to find a way to reinvent ourselves, other than just nurturing the bridal.”

4 A spirit of adventure. The Runyans’ roots in the community and spirit of adventure offer an authentic brand experience. Erik and Leslie’s three daughters, now adults, grew up boating and riding dirt bikes on weekends. Erik continues to regularly pursue both of those hobbies, providing him with material for storytelling in the store. His staff, too, has a gift for gab, he says, in the tradition of life aboard a ship.

5 The shadow. Rae is a German shepherd who follows Leslie around the store like a shadow — all day. While she likes about 80 percent of the people she meets, she will simply ignore the others. She takes her job seriously, though, and will lie in front of the entry door while the staff is setting up for the day. When it’s time for her compensation, she will sit and stare at the treat jar, conveniently placed at her eye level.

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