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An Artist’s Iconic Jewelry Finds a Home in a Gallery Space Custom-Made to Show It Off

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Thomas Mann Gallery I/O, New Orleans, LA

OWNER: Thomas Mann; URL:thomasmann.com; FOUNDED: 1988; LAST RENOVATED: 2014; EMPLOYEES: 3 full-time; 2 part-time ; AREA: 1,000 square feet (retail); 3,314 Facebook likes; 4.5 Stars on Yelp: Oliver Peoples, Kate Spade, Tiffany, Tom Ford, Swarovski; FACEBOOK: 3,314 Facebook likes; 4.5 Stars on Yelp: 3,314 Facebook likes


THE DEMANDS OF BUSINESS and art don’t always co-exist comfortably in one person or place.

But artist Thomas Mann has managed to pull it all together in the Thomas Mann Gallery I/O, where he is able to make, display and sell his jewelry, create sculpture, teach metal-working classes and host art exhibitions.

Early on, Mann realized that in order for him to pursue his art and live comfortably, he would have to become a savvy businessman as well. So he learned enough about business management and accounting to delegate those necessary tasks confidently to others. Mann, a jewelry artist and sculptor, has been on the cutting edge of art-jewelry design for decades, coming up with a techno-romantic style based on incorporating found objects into his designs. He continues to exhibit on the art-show circuit, even as he’s invested heavily in retail.

Every detail of his gallery is an expression of his design aesthetic, from the jewelry furniture and displays he designed and built himself, to the quirky giftware and the work of other jewelry artists he curates. He first designed his retail space in the mode of a high-end gallery with museum-style displays. But it eventually became more accessible with a huge variety of jewelry on display, hanging from the walls, and in drawers beneath custom cases. Often, displays are created for specific pieces or groups of jewelry. Some look like mini sculptures.

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The light-filled space with high ceilings and big windows is casual and airy, lending itself to a laid-back sales philosophy: Visitors are encouraged to browse and try on as many pieces as they’d like, undisturbed. Wood floors and a feature wall add warmth and texture, contrasting with sleek metal and glass shelving and areas of cool concrete flooring. Mann’s own large sculptural hearts offer a mesmerizing focal point, drawing the eye toward the back of the store.

The real estate component of his business at first seemed risky to casual observers, like his friends, who thought he was nuts, he recalls. Mann bought the circa 1870 building that houses his gallery, shop and school in 1988. Part of Historic Magazine Row, the building is in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District, a neighborhood that was decidedly seedy when he bought in. “I would drive home through the St. Thomas housing project and hear and see automatic weapons fired,” he says.

But he knew things would turn around. Before the purchase, he had consulted the city and learned there were plans to dismantle the housing project, and he believed other anticipated changes would likely transform the neighborhood. The investment and the risk paid off. Now the store is in such a high-rent area of New Orleans’ storied shopping street that the value of those buildings should guarantee a comfortable retirement, he says.

The space has been through a variety of incarnations, all of which were designed and orchestrated by Mann, who has a degree in theater staging. “I’ve never had to rely on outside designers to handle those kinds of issues. Not only can I design it from the space down to the fixturing, I can build it. All of the jewelry furniture is stuff we design and make in house.” The circular layout encourages browsing in every corner of the store. Although every inch of retail space is well used and purposeful, it still looks casual and unstudied, as if it all somehow just fell into place.

Mann learned silversmithing in high school and apprenticed with silversmiths in Pennsylvania. “I started making jewelry and quickly discovered the connection between jewelry, money and girls. I’d go to school with a sockful of bangle bracelets and sell out.” In college he sold fraternity and sorority pins.

In the late ’60s, friends invited him to open a silversmith shop in the back of a surf shop in Stone Harbor, NJ. When the jewelry proved more lucrative than the surf operation, the enterprise became all jewelry. By 1972, he had three stores on the Jersey Shore, and he and his brother had branched off into natural foods, as well. In the late ’70s, he sold the businesses and the buildings and went off to just “be an artist.” At that time, he sold jewelry primarily at art fairs, as he developed his signature style.

After trying out a couple of names for his jewelry (including paranormal), Mann christened it techno-romantic and made it official with a trademark. He describes the style as a precursor to steam punk.

“I came up with a peculiar look at the right time and the right place for an audience that was ready to receive it,” Mann says. “I also made the decision not to go the fine jewelry route — no gold, no diamonds. I made work that paralleled with my design-thinking that I didn’t care about the value of the material. I wanted to make it as technically fulfilling as possible at a price that most people could afford. So that meant base metals, silver — only occasionally gold — and found objects.”

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By the late ’80s, he says, his work had become widely imitated. So instead of continuing to incorporate true found objects in the jewelry, he made his own objects, which made his work singular.

By the late ’80s, too, his accountant had urged him to invest in real estate, so, landing on New Orleans as his new home, he devised a detailed business plan and took the plunge into retail once more.

From its inception, the gallery has also represented other artists working in the medium of metal. Mann’s jewelry and design studio is located directly above the gallery, which streamlines adjustments, repairs and custom design services. Most important, easy access to the studio provides instant education for customers, who come to realize the labor-intensive craftsmanship and artistry involved in the work. That realization enhances their perception of the jewelry’s value.

During exhibition openings, guests are invited to wander through all of the connected spaces — the gallery, the offices, the jewelry studio and studioFLUX, Mann’s metalsmithing school. The studio kitchen doubles as a bar and the outdoor deck a lounge, making the space even more versatile.

The multi-use spaces encourage customers to linger and allow relationships to develop organically. Mann has also been building relationships online since 1985, when he debuted his first e-commerce-enabled website. “It was pretty much like opening a brick and mortar store,” he says. “You have to do all the same things — build audience, advertise to that audience. One of our goals was to build our mailing list and we’ve been doing that ever since. We have a very substantial audience. Now we’re enjoying a substantial presence online.”

Being ahead of the curve in so many areas paved the way for Mann’s success as an artist, a teacher and a gallery owner.

“I lead a charmed life,” Mann says. “I’m not getting wealthy but I lead a really rich life.”

iWe’re always searching for the retail gene in somebody, a natural sales instinct. You can be trained for it. But people who really excel at it have a natural inclination for it. If they love the product that they are promoting there is a natural synergy.

In the fine jewelry world it’s always ABC — always be closing. I don’t like that. It’s very Machiavellian. I don’t want someone to buy something they are not interested in. We practice permission selling, giving the customer the ability to be present in your space and visually consume the product line you’re showing. And when the moment is right, you offer the information that boosts their appreciation for the product or service that you are offering. Without any kind of pressure.

I am an artist working in the medium of jewelry. That allows me to think of myself as an artist who works in a variety of media, with jewelry being one of them.

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You can’t do it alone. You have to have talented, dedicated, creative people to do it with. Without them you swim alone in the vast retail ocean that’s full of opportunity for failure. The people you surround yourself with help you keep it afloat and make it fun!

Five Cool Things About Thomas Mann Gallery I/O

1. SETTING HAS A RICH MERCHANT HISTORY. The gallery is located in one of a series of warehouses circa 1870 that were at one time all connected with pass-ways between them and rented “by the bay” like stalls in a marketplace. It’s called Historic Magazine Row and was the first industrial commercial park outside of the French Quarter.

2. EXHIBITIONS. The gallery stages several group and solo jewelry exhibitions per year that are either self curated or organized traveling shows. I/O has staged more than 50 exhibitions in its history.

3. THE NAME ITSELF. “I/O” is an abbreviation for “insightful objects,” meaning objects full of meaning and power and energy are on view. Mann says the things he and other artists make represent a special connection between artist and client. The artist imbues the object with creative energy and the client demonstrates appreciation for that object by exchanging energy in the form of money.

4. KID-AND-PET-FRIENDLY. The gallery “strictly enforces” a bring-your-kids-and-pets-to-work policy. Both Lucy, the shop dog, and Courtney, the gallery dog with her own Instagram account, defuse the stress of hectic days. At 9 years old, the business manager’s son helps sell Thomas Mann jewelry by wearing it in the gallery and spreading the word about how cool the jewelry is.

5. MANAGEMENT STYLE. “It’s easy to work in our gallery because everyone loves what they do and what they sell,” says Angele Seiley, operations manager. “Tom is a leader, not by ruling things, but by letting people’s natural talents develop.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Peggy Jo Donahue:Wow. Just wow. A complete experience of artistic joy, unequaled and totally NOLA. From its exuberant colors to the crazy quilt of offerings that highlight jewelry as art — this is one cool store. If ever there were a place that spread lagniappe, this is it. The whole operation is an unexpected gift.

Christine Medawar:I really love the art camp that they are doing. Children are our future and the future clients of our businesses, and there aren’t enough art camps out there! They are filling a void, and giving back to the community.

Rebecca Overmann:I have to admit that I’ve been a fan for more years than I’ve been a designer. The shop absolutely exudes the spirit of New Orleans and lets the whimsical genius of the work shine through.

Benjamin Guttery:I love that the owner is an artist first and a store owner second. This passion and understanding comes through in everything they do. Also, having unique “art jewelry” in the gallery sets them apart from the competition.

Ruth Mellergaard:This is a fascinating store in a funky city. There is something for everyone — from kids to grownups.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: 5 Questions with Thomas Mann

1. What is your most rewarding hobby?
Cooking has always been a huge hobby for me, ever since I became a vegetarian in 1968. I invented the earth burger and the carrot dog when I had a natural food store. If I would have stuck with either one of those, I’d have been a billionaire by now.

2. What do you look for when hiring for the gallery?
We’re always searching for the retail gene in somebody, a natural sales instinct. You can be trained for it. But people who really excel at it have a natural inclination for it. If they love the product that they are promoting there is a natural synergy.

3. What is your sales philosophy?
In the fine jewelry world it’s always ABC — always be closing. I don’t like that. It’s very Machiavellian. I don’t want someone to buy something they are not interested in. We practice permission selling, giving the customer the ability to be present in your space and visually consume the product line you’re showing. And when the moment is right, you offer the information that boosts their appreciation for the product or service that you are offering. Without any kind of pressure.

4. Why do you say you’re not a jeweler?
I am an artist working in the medium of jewelry. That allows me to think of myself as an artist who works in a variety of media, with jewelry being one of them.

5. What lessons have you learned about retail?
You can’t do it alone. You have to have talented, dedicated, creative people to do it with. Without them you swim alone in the vast retail ocean that’s full of opportunity for failure. The people you surround yourself with help you keep it afloat and make it fun!

PHOTO GALLERY (7 Images)

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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America's Coolest Stores

America’s Coolest Stores 2019 – Winners Revealed!

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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.

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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.

H1912

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.

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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: runyansjewelers.com | 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.

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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.”

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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.

PHOTO GALLERY (28 IMAGES)
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5 COOL THINGS ABOUT ERIK RUNYAN JEWELERS

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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