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America's Coolest Stores

ACS 2004: First Place, Wattsson & Wattsson Jewelers

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INSTORE takes its third annual look at the most innovative stores in the country.

What’s cool? That’s the question we at Instore ask ourselves every year when it comes time to producing our latest compendium of cool, the annual “America’s Coolest Stores” issue.

This year, for our third edition, we came up with more than 70 very cool candidates — collected from nominations made by industry members as well as direct submissions from jewelry-store owners — and came up with 30 finalists to turn over to our panel of expert judges

And for all of you out there who think your store should have been included? Well, there’s always next year. Of course, you could always help along the process by emailing us at [email protected] com today to let us know about your unique, mold-breaking store. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up being “America’s Coolest Store” for 2005.

Wattsson & Wattsson Jewelers

Mine, Oh Mine … Introducing ‘America’s Coolest Store’

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Address: 118 West Washington Street Marquette, MI  49855 | Phone: (906) 228-5775
Opened: 1985  |  Last major renovation: 1989  |  Est. property value: $2 million |  Staff: 6  |  Store area: 5,000 sq. ft  | Location type: Downtown | Sales in 2003: $750,000

Store owner Ron Wattsson often hears how cool his store is, but the praise of being hip doesn’t come from overpaid creative types who wear black on black. In fact, more often than not, these rave reviews come from the mouths of third-graders.

Wattsson & Wattsson Jewelers’ exterior is historic, but its status as this year’s “America’s Coolest Store” is based more on the store’s prehistoric interior. With his store nestled in Marquette, MI, Wattsson is part retail jeweler, museum curator and prehistory educator. The store’s façade is quaint red brick, something one would find in most downtown historic areas. And, for the most part, Wattsson & Wattsson Jewelers’ interior is a fairly straightforward jewelry store layout — well, with the exception of the rhinoceros head. But the real attraction, and the center of cool for Wattsson & Wattsson Jewelers, is located towards the rear of the store. That’s where customers can enter the store’s unique “Gold Mine.”

The 100-foot length museum runs the length of the 5,000 square-foot showroom. It was constructed from wood, wire mesh and roughly 10 tons of plaster. Construction required six months — with nearly half of that time dedicated to painting the interior to create a realistic “mine” effect. Wattsson and his staff carefully researched the numerous exhibits, whose subjects include fulgurites, meteorites, copper and gold mining, ammonites, Lake Superior agates, and even an authentic nest of dinosaur eggs. The rocks and minerals exhibit has become a destination for tourists, school children and local mining enthusiasts.

Customers exit the Gold Mine through the “Rock Room”. As the exhibits come to an end people once again have a brush with “Slim”, a 50,000-year-old cave bear fossil from Russia who serves as greeter and farewell bidder to Gold Mine visitors. Once back in the showroom, customers are quickly reminded that Wattsson & Wattsson Jewelers is a full-service jeweler offering repairs and custom casting. The repair shop is  fully visible to the customers who can watch a ring being sized, a wax mold being carved, or their jewelry being professionally cleaned and polished.

It’s hard to believe there’s actually enough space left for the store’s “Diamond Room”. The separate glass enclosed room, designed by a local architect, is done in a crystal shape.

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STORE REVIEWS

The store owner on his cool store: “I always wanted to take care of a diamond mine and when I was a kid I wanted a dinosaur, but I got an ancient bear instead. The Gold Mine got its start when we used to make jewelry from local gold — Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a mining area. The museum was an extension of the Michigan gold refining and production we used to do in the store. Why a museum? Jewelry isn’t something people need, so our job [as jewelers] is to make it fun. Walt Disney was my mentor. Make it fun and they will come. The Gold Mine cost about $110,000 to make and, yes, it was worth it.” — Ron Wattson

Greg Gorman: “This store is my favorite from all the entries. It truly offers the customer a retail experience far different than any competition. I love the way that this concept holds onto the vintage fact of how many years they have been in business with antique cases, tin ceiling and the chandeliers. But then turns into an educational museum supporting the business and getting all ages involved. The smaller gift shop area at the end in warm wood tones greatly complements the entire experience taking you through basically three different environments in one shopping visit. When retail attracts customers by the bus loads as a want-to, have-to-see destination, that’s a ten any day. This is retail at its best and is not predictable. A new surprise around every corner that makes the customer want to see it all, stay longer than usual in a store and impulsively sells products as nothing else as souvenirs.”

Karen Karch: “I like the uniqueness, but wonder if it is too gimmicky. Seems to be a place for children to play than a place for adults to buy — it’s a mini-natural history museum.”

Linda Cahan: “It’s not too often that a jewelry store design is exciting or even really interesting beyond the jewelry. This store has recreated the jewelry store experience by making themselves an entertainment destination as well as an elegant jewelry store. The chandeliers and the ornate ceiling are great way to say ‘upscale’ along with the good wood case-line. While this is a destination store for the amazing mine museum, it definitely is a place to buy jewelry, not just sight-see. I respect and admire their commitment to their customers and community in the efforts they have made to make their store a truly unique shopping and learning experience.”

Deborah Yonick: “Very impressive, the exterior speaks of Old World charm in its architecture and history that was translated well in the interior through the antique showcases and furniture, chandeliers, even the great conversation piece — the rhino head mounted on the wall! The gold mine seems schmaltzy, but it’s actually tastefully done and it appears to attract a lot of people — very clever!”

Mark & Monika Clodius: “Conceptually the coolest. Love the creativity and originality. For me a cool store is much more than interior design, but the coolness of reaching out to your customer base and community.

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STORE IMAGES

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This story is from the August 2004 edition of INSTORE

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