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Owner Designs Store to Accommodate a Full Life As Well As a Rewarding Career



Renaissance Fine Jewelry, Brattleboro, VT

OWNER: Caitlyn Wilkinson; ; FOUNDED: 2005; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2011; EMPLOYEES: 3 full-time; 3 part-time ; AREA: 1,500 square feet sales floor; 3,000 additional square feet; TOP BRANDS: Jabel, David Connolly, Camelot, Benchmark, Ashi, Nancy B, Endless Jewelry, True Romance, Nicole Barr, Rembrandt Charms, Kameleon, Quality Gold. Estate department: Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co., Bulgari, Patricia Von Muslin.; ONLINE PRESENCE:: 3,122 Facebook Likes; 4.5 Stars on Yelp.; BUILDOUT COST: $750,000

CAITLYN WILKINSON, owner of Renaissance Fine Jewelry in Brattleboro, VT, can go days without stepping outside of her store, not even to grab dinner or a night’s sleep.

She lives upstairs in the 1850s Greek Revival bank building on Main Street, which she bought and meticulously renovated into a jewelry store in 2010. The 1,500-square-foot showroom — aglow from four crystal chandeliers with walls painted Renaissance’s signature red with ivory and gold moldings — fills the first floor with bridal, contemporary and estate jewelry.


The second floor is a transitional space, both public and private, where Wilkinson meets with clients and has her office. “I did a large kitchen with a 15-foot granite island, which opens to the dining room where we sit down with groups to eat,” she says. The kitchen is located where the bank’s original executive offices had been, where many deals might have been struck at the turn of the last century, Wilkinson says. Now it’s the ultimate place for serious client entertaining.

The third floor is her family’s private space — living and bedrooms.

With her professional and personal life all in one location, often 24 hours will pass without Wilkinson ever leaving the premises. “That happens all the time, especially in the winter,” she says. “I just go up and down the (brass-gated elevator) with my pocketbook and bag of stuff.”

A Lifelong Plan

Wilkinson’s Fascination with fine jewelry began early. When playing with Barbies, she’d save all of their accessories. By the time she was 12, she was studying gemology and asking her parents to give her one piece of jewelry for her birthday each year. At 16, she approached a prominent Vermont jeweler and asked for a job.

“He said, ‘Come back when you grow up,’” Wilkinson says. So she did.

College followed with studies in business management, courses with the GIA and part-time work in a mall jewelry store. By age 20, Wilkinson was managing a designer jewelry store in downtown Burlington. “I received a wonderful education about the jewelry world from my mentors there,” she says.

Just as her career was poised for takeoff, Wilkinson started experiencing serious health problems from multiple sclerosis.


“My doctor said, ‘You’re going to be in a wheelchair by 40,’” she says. That devastating news could have sidelined all her plans. Instead, it did just the opposite. It fired her up. Suddenly, owning her own jewelry store wasn’t just a dream, it was an imperative.

Living with MS “was part of my decision to start my business,” she says. “I needed to support my family. I needed a place where I could work as my disability was getting more and more severe.”

In 2005, Wilkinson and her mother, Wendy Lillie, launched Renaissance Fine Jewelry in a storefront on Brattleboro’s Main Street. Five years later, Wilkinson purchased the historic Savings Bank of Vermont building and transformed it into her dream store.

Though it’s unnoticeable to most clients, the building was designed to accommodate Wilkinson’s potential health needs. All the doors are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair; the floors are level. She spent more than $100,000 on the elevator alone — a 1935 Otis — to bring it up to code and to make it functional for someone with a disability. It “was all part of trying to
provide a place where, if I was cognitively able, I could still work,” she says.

As an added benefit, the store today is easy to navigate for families with strollers.

While her business was growing, Wilkinson was starting on a new experimental medication. “At that point, the hospitals here had no more treatments for me,” she says. “I was willing to take the drug. I knew the risks.”

When she was renovating the bank building, Wilkinson couldn’t walk the one block from her original store to her new location. Today, thanks to the medication, she’s been in remission for nearly seven years. “I’m not in a wheelchair. I can dance. I can run. I can do anything,” she says.

“I didn’t think I’d live to see my kids this age,” she said. (Her sons are 13 and 15.) “I don’t like to be disabled. I joke that disability doesn’t look good on me.”

A Building Transformed

Buying The Former Red Brick Bank Building was key to transforming Renaissance into the store Wilkinson always envisioned it to be. But it didn’t come quickly. It took two years just to acquire the building.

“The owner was a 92-year-old former senator, well beloved in my community, and he never put it up for sale,” she says. “He took offers from buyers, and you had to apply. He even met my family to determine whether we were the kind of people he wanted to own this building.” After getting his blessing, Wilkinson commenced a full gut-to-the-studs renovation. Today, visitors enter through double red doors flanked by Greek Revival columns. The interior is open with high ceilings, large windows and period-appropriate architectural features. Classic ivory-paneled wood-and-glass cases with LED lights display the collections. The inventory includes estate and designer jewelry, contemporary, bridal and fashion lines as well as the store’s own designs.

“We are big fans of Pandora,” Wilkinson says. “It brings people in from every social level who feel comfortable shopping in our store, which is very important to us. They might start with a charm from Pandora, but come the big day in everyone’s life, they might be shopping for engagement rings and wedding bands.”

A display also is dedicated to rare finds, such as a sterling silver, turn-of-the-20th-century cosmetic purse from Boucheron, antique Cartier pens and an 1850 French tremblant diamond-encrusted necklace that converts to a tiara.

“The layout is designed to engage with our customers,” Wilkinson says. “We can assist from two sides (of the store) at the same time. We also have a workroom on the main floor with a jeweler’s bench, so people can watch us while we are working on their repairs.”

Another clever feature is a children’s play area. “I have kids, so I get what it’s like to shop with hyper little boys,” she says. “One of us will go help with the kids while the parents look.”

Renaissance’s employees go through extensive training, learning the inventory as well as customer-service skills. “We know the best experience is when people walk in the door, and we give them an ‘aha’ moment,” she says. “We do that. We send thank you cards; we have little gifts for children when they come in.”

The store also does custom design. It’s one of Wilkinson’s passions. Last Christmas, she helped a new client, who was working in Pakistan, design an engagement ring — all via Skype. “He sent me some pictures, and he had great taste,” she said. “I would send him pictures of designs, and we hand-fabricated it. It was an exquisite ring, every little detail was thought of.


“I’m completely honored to be part of these experiences,” she says of her clients’ big life moments. “Here I am helping them choose their wedding bands that will hopefully be on their fingers for every day of their lives.”

ONLINE EXTRA: 5 Questions with Caitlyn Wilkinson

1. What do you love most about owning a jewelry store?
I design custom jewelry, with my favorite being a gorgeous new design using parts and pieces from clients’ deeply sentimental jewelry, sometimes incorporating seamlessly up to four different family members’ jewelry. I love listening to my clients’ stories, getting to know them individually and, most of all, being part of creating new memories.

2. What do you look for when hiring for the gallery?
I look for people who are kind, committed and honest and have a natural drive to do their job and do the best they can do. That doesn’t mean you have to be the best at everything. If everyone in the store does (his or her) job well then the whole store flows beautifully. We’re a group of people who are very supportive of each other.

3. Do staff work on commission?
They have a strong base, incentive commission and benefits.

4. What’s your most important marketing strategy?
Today you have to be more than a jeweler. People have so many places they can shop. We want to be friends with our clients. For us, the boundary between client and friend is quickly washed away. They’re still our clients — that’s most important — but we bring them into the fold of our lives in a way. … We also do a lot of radio ads. So my voice is well known. I’ll go places around town, and people will recognize my voice.

5. You mentioned that you have a nickel allergy. Do you carry jewelry that has nickel in the store?
If it has nickel in it, it has to be rhodium-plated. Our focus is nickel-free so I can be comfortable living here.

Five Cool Things About Renaissance Fine Jewelry

1.HISTORY ALL AROUND. The store’s three-story red brick building was built in 1859 and served as a bank for 150 years.

2. NO PARKING TICKETS. As part of its customer service efforts, staff members feed clients’ parking meters and make deliveries to disabled customers.

3. TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION OF JEWELERS. Wilkinson hires high school students who are part of Future Business Leaders of America. She trains them extensively. They’ve done sales, marketing and social media.

4. MORE THAN A QUICK NOSH. If a client is hungry, staff members will dash to the second-floor kitchen to whip up plates of olives, pate, cheese, fruit and crackers and serve it all on a silver platter.

5. PARTY POLITICS. A sidewalk improvement project in downtown Brattleboro caused major headaches for local shop owners in 2015. But instead of getting frustrated with the construction workers, who were doing their jobs, Renaissance threw a pizza and beer night for them at the store. It showed the store’s appreciation for their work, and “we subsequently got some business out of it,” Wilkinson says.


  • Peggy Jo Donahue: I love the emphasis on jewelry’s long history, the embrace of the town’s young folks, and the warm friendliness of being in someone’s home. This is a place where a glass of wine or a meal is at the ready.
  • Rebecca Overmann: Connection with your community is not only critical — it’s what makes the business fun and rewarding.
  • Christine Medawar: I love how much they are a part of the community and love to eat out or entertain. I believe networking is so important and should be a big part of any business.
  • Benjamin Guttery: I love that they target disabled consumers that normally would not be able to stop by store easily. That’s going the extra mile for your clients.
  • Ruth Mellergaard: I love red, so I love this store. Red is a color promoting energy and life and Caitlyn’s story tells me that this reflects her and her store. Bravo!


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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