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90-Year-Old Retailer Bob LaGravinese Considers Himself a Very Lucky Man

The Korean War vet, great-grandfather and parade grand marshal is retiring … but he thinks he’ll probably still go into the store to help.

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In May, Bob LaGravinese served as grand marshal of Pelham’s Memorial Day parade.
In May, Bob LaGravinese served as grand marshal of Pelham’s Memorial Day parade.

EACH YEAR, OUR December Real Deal tells a story that recalls the amazing privilege afforded us by our industry to make a real difference in our communities and that reminds us why we do what we do. This year, as we move forward at a breakneck pace into a world of uncertainty, we are honored to share the story and sustaining philosophy of Bob LaGravinese: husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, Korean War veteran, parade grand marshal, Facebook icon(!), lifelong jewelry industry professional and genuinely good man.

In 1900, Dominick LaGravinese was born in Sammichele di Bari, Italy. He came to this country as a child with his parents shortly thereafter. In 1917, he laid the foundation for a great family legacy, founding LaGravinese Jewelers in a small building on Nassau Street in Manhattan. From that humble beginning, LaGravinese Jewelers became one of the largest manufacturers in the jewelry industry.

Dominick passed the leadership of the company on to his two sons, Joseph and Robert. Joseph continued in the manufacturing business, rebranding as Radio City Jewelers. Robert, with his great personality and love for working with people, opened the first LaGravinese Jewelers retail store in Pelham, New York in 1964.

Bob was looking for a new start. He had served in the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War and then worked for his father for more than a decade, but he wanted more — for himself and for his family.

LaGravinese is pictured playing the string bass in hte Oklahoma City Symphony at Tinker Air Force base.

LaGravinese is pictured playing the string bass in hte Oklahoma City Symphony at Tinker Air Force base.

“Fifty seven years ago, I opened my retail store here in Pelham, NY,” Bob recalls. “I had previously worked for my dad in his setting factory for 11 years working six days a week and sometimes seven. I worked elbow to elbow with the most talented jewelers I have ever known. Everything was handmade. My dad would roll out a bar of platinum and in a few hours would have a ring completely finished, setting and polishing. I learned everything I know today from those 11 years, but I hated every minute of it. I was neglecting my family by rarely being home and knew I had to do something. I opened this store very close to home, and my life changed dramatically. I felt as though I were finally free from that captive life. Now that I will be 90 in a few weeks, I am looking back and realizing that the choice I made was a good one.”

Opening the Pelham store was truly a community effort. Bob chose the location based on the advice of a local dry cleaner who had been carefully tracking business activity and growth in the area. The buildout in the new store was done with the help of a local carpenter who was perfectly fine with the idea of taking weekly payments until the project was complete and paid for. The finished store was beautiful, comfortable and inviting, and LaGravinese.

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Jewelers earned a fiercely loyal following over the years, with customers coming from far and wide.

“I’ve known Bob since I was a kid growing up in Pelham,” says one longtime LaGravinese client, Paul Bonfiglio. “I bought my first ring for a girlfriend at his store at its first location on Fifth Avenue. Bob and his family always took great care of their customers. I took my son Joe to see them when he was looking for an engagement ring, and they took great care of him. He and his wife are now residing in Texas and send their jewelry to New York, where they know it will be in good hands.”

90-Year-Old Retailer Bob LaGravinese Considers Himself a Very Lucky Man

This year, Bob LaGravinese was chosen to be the grand marshal of Pelham’s Memorial Day parade. Bob believes that the good will shown to him throughout his career, as well as the good fortune he’s experienced throughout his life, is a direct result of the good energy he puts into the world.

“My Prius doesn’t need much gas, so at my last fill-up in New Jersey, the young man after filling up said ‘$14.’ I gave him $20 and said, ‘Keep the change.’ He looked completely startled and said, ‘All of it?’ I said, ‘Certainly.’ ‘Gee — thanks a lot!’ he said. I was on my way back from Atlantic City and had had a good run. It’s nice to share when you got it,” Bob says.

Bob knows he’s a lucky man. “Do you know that I hit all five numbers in the Take 5 Lotto about 25 years ago?” he says. “The jackpots at that time were $270,000 at every drawing. It was really exciting to read and reread those numbers over and over. I can never forget them: 3-14-24-31-38. Well guess what? In the entire history of every type of lotto, there had never been as many winners as on this draw. How many? An unbelievable 9. $270,000 divided by 9 got me $30,000 gross — after taxes, $19,000. I’m not complaining, though. I’ve been lucky all my life — with the greatest luck of my life being my family.”

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At age 90, Bob LaGravinese is retiring, leaving both the business he built and the family legacy he advanced in the care of his children and grandchildren. His son Robert Jr. is the owner of LaGravinese Jewelers in Bronxville, and his granddaughters, Dominique and Maxine, will be taking over the Pelham store upon his retirement under the guidance of their mother, Jeanette.

Though this is the end of an era for LaGravinese, he looks back over the years fondly, grateful for the successes of his life. His immediate plans include spending time in his community in Somers and maybe even coming into the store from time to time.

90-Year-Old Retailer Bob LaGravinese Considers Himself a Very Lucky Man

Left: Bob LaGravinese has always been active in his community of Pelham, a suburban town about 10 miles northeast of Midtown Manhattan, where he opened the retail store LaGravinese Jewelers in 1964.; Right: “I remember this day vividly,” says Bob. “It was Sept 16, 1951 — the day after my brother’s wedding. I came home on a three-day pass to be at the wedding and to give Jean an engagement ring. I’ve gained a few pounds since … Jean looks exactly the same.”

“I have 16 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren now, so I’m a rich man. I feel like I retired when I opened this store. I felt free. I don’t think I can ever fully retire though. I love to do things, to help, so I’ll keep doing that.”

The connection Bob LaGravinese has with his customers and with his industry is apparent to all who know him. Nearly 70 years after he began his fine jewelry career, it remains an impactful and meaningful portion of his service-driven life. Bob is certain that the LaGravinese values of integrity, service, commitment and passion that have been at the core of the family — and the family businesses for four generations — will continue well into the future.

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“My daughter and my granddaughters are now running the store, and I can finally say, ‘Gosh, I think I’ll retire.’ This Memorial Day, the town of Pelham is honoring me as grand marshal of the parade. I guess they’ll expect me to say a few words. I just hope I don’t faint.

“This business has been good to me, and I’m often asked the secret to my success. My answer is the word ‘love.’ You’ve got to love the work you do, and you’ve got to love the people who support you. May God bless all of you jewelers; keep the love going.”

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected].

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