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ACS 2005 3rd Place: Schwarzschild Jewelers

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Schwarzschild Jewelers, Midlothian, VA

OWNERS: Merritt Mayher, president and CEO; ADDRESS: Alverser Plaza, 1200 Alverser Drive, Midlothian, VA, 23113; PHONE: (804) 344-0150; URL: schwarzschild.com; YEAR FOUNDED: 1897; 2004 REVENUES: “Seven figures.”; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: October 2003; LOCATION TYPE: End-cap store in a small mall; ARCHITECT/ DESIGN FIRM: Stephanie Maxey; TOTAL STORE AREA: 6,500 sq. ft; SALES FLOOR AREA: 5,000 sq. ft; TARGET CUSTOMER: Middle to upper-middle class; SHOWCASES: 10 vitrines and sidewalls, 21 showcases (120 linear feet); EMPLOYEES: 6 (at Las Olas branch); FLOOR: Imported limestone; LAST REMODELING: October 2004; CEILINGS: 26 feet high; SHOWCASES: Curved dark walnut central showcase, connecting in other curves to other curved display cases and alternated with square standalone cases; EMPLOYEES: 14; PRIMARY COLORS: Mahogany and blonde maple with taupe tones; FLOORS: Cream-colored mosaic floor with brown square accents, pale oatmeal-colored carpet; WALLS: Combination of plaster and mainly light woods. Accent wall coverings range from a soft pewter to copper tones; DVERTISING SLOGAN: N/A; “COOLEST” STORE FEATURE: The shape of the central showcase, which is like a circle cut in pieces and turned inside-out. “It has a beautiful dome at the top and really anchors the store,” says Mayer. “It causes you to walk along the showcase, which I see people doing all the time. It leads you along.”; LAND COST: Unspecified; BUILDING COST: Unspecified; INTERIOR BUILD-OUT COST: Unspecified; DESIGN/ARCHITECTURAL FIRMS COST: Unspecified; CURRENT ESTIMATED PROPERTY VALUE: Unspecified


CAN A CENTURY-OLD STORE be an innovator, capable of a modern look but with a secure sense of its own history? According to Schwarzschild Jewelers head Merritt Mayher, the answer is an unequivocal “Yes.” In fact, the three-store Virginia chain, which calls itself the “Crown Jewel of Richmond,” is used to moving full-throttle into its future. The business was founded in the late 1890ʼs by William Schwarzschild, fueled by the wealth of emerging industries. The store was one of the first retailers in the downtown area to open a second suburban location, and now has the only David Yurman

boutique in central Virginia. And it has plenty to be proud of in its Alveser Plaza location, which opened a year-and-a-half ago to a very positive response — from local customers as well as those in the retail world. Its dramatic, curvilinear case styles, shown off to great effect in its $1 million-plus design with 14-foot high-ceilings, subtle earth tones and plenty of natural light, make it one of “Americaʼs Coolest Stores”.

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“Being 100 years old means people may think of us as stuffy, but we knew we were cool. Weʼve gotten lots of oohs and ahs about this store even from people in the wholesale and jewelry industry who have been to many, many places,” says Mayher. “In a way, thatʼs even more gratifying because they are much more jaded.”

A visit to Schwarzschild Jewelers is meant to be friendly and warm, so when it came to updating its image with the Alveser Plaza store in 2003, Mayher knew that she wanted it to be welcoming and inviting while also modern and flowing (another location, in Richmondʼs Short Pump Town Center, opened in 2004 with a more classic, luxurious look that hearkens back to the storeʼs original 1897 location, while the third store in Carytown, built in the 1950s, has a traditional feel with heavy dark wood paneling). In other words, she wanted a shopping experience that wouldnʼt intimidate but would still be sophisticated, highlighting Schwarzschildʼs fashion-forward jewelry mix of top designers, including Stephen Dweck, David Yurman and Roberto Coin. “I think itʼs very easy for jewelry stores to be somewhat cold,” she says. “We knew we wanted a sense of intimacy even though itʼs large. But we didnʼt want it to look fussy.”

Jacksonville, FL-based interior designer Stephanie Maxey, who had done work for other independent jewelry retailers across the country, took Mayherʼs concepts for the perfectly square space, located in a small mall across the street from a large shopping center, and added her own unique design vision. “She was the one who initiated the idea of the curves,” says Mayher. “The facade of the building has a curved window treatment arched at the top of the windows, and it started us down that curvilinear road.” Five months after the contractors got to work, the finished project included a cream-colored mosaic floor, an abstract-patterned oatmeal-colored carpet, 10-inch baseboards with light maple or dark walnut trim, and a whopping 649 linear feet of display area. The central showcase, which customers see as soon as they walk inside, is a round, dark walnut-colored, curved case measuring 14 feet wide and connected in curves to other display cases that line the store.

“The way the layout works, there are no hidden corners when youʼre on the selling floor,” explains Mayher. “There are no areas where you feel like youʼve walked into a dead spot or tunnel, the way some floor plans can be, and no barriers to what youʼre shopping for.”

With so much intricate design and elaborate detail, including relief work, case depth, baseboard moldings, and dropped ceiling fixtures, a neutral color palette was important. Says Mayher: “If we had used color as opposed to neutrals, it would have been really jarring visually.”

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One of the best aspects of the space, she adds, is the tremendous amount of natural light, thanks to floor to ceiling windows that take advantage of the storeʼs corner location. “I think the staff really enjoys the light, itʼs such a bonus and so rare in a retail environment. It makes it a pleasant shopping experience,” says Mayher. The high ceilings gracefully ascend to a 12-foot wide dome, adding another circular element to the already fluid feel.

Some of Schwarzschildʼs upper middle-class customers think the storeʼs style is almost too modern — but most are delighted by the retailerʼs choices, saying that itʼs a welcoming, positive environment. “Weʼve achieved everything weʼve striven for in that location,” says Mayer. The evidence, she says, is when she watches customers come in for a fairly routine service like a watch battery change and still take the time to wander around the store. “We donʼt get that beeline-in, beeline- out approach typical for a service call,” she says. And at the end of the day, she says, the job of any independent jewelry retailer is to make the customer feel at home and sell the product. “You want to provide an elegant envelope to allow the product to shine,” she says. “I think this store does that very nicely.”

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Excellent combination of textures and patterns, materials used together to deliver an interior design and environment that definitely complements the merchandise.
  • The mixed use of seating and showcase types to define specific areas and differentiate them from one another is wonderful.
  • The use of different ceiling treatments and levels of detailing is an excellent touch.
  • Once again, there is nothing that I can say except “wonderful … expensive, but wonderful”. It is important for retailers to understand that their store’s interior environment has to complement the merchandise and price points.
  • The only difference I can see between this and the coolest store is that the ceiling and lighting treatments are not handled as well and take away from the overall quality.— Greg Gorman , GMG Design
  • Visually a lovely store. Nice to see the dark wood used to add warmth, something which most US stores seem to lack. I love the use of curves to add visual interest, the attention to detail looks very impressive. The use of the multi-tiered ceiling, the height to give the impression of roominess and the drop down for the lights gives the ceiling interest. The use of the fine legs on the display cabinets also adds to the roominess of the store. I love that this isn’t the usual huge store, but has class and warmth … personality!
  • Beautiful use of symmetry from all angles gives you an idea of just how much attention to detail was applied in the store design.— Joe Romano , Scull & Company
  • In just a few photos, this store seems to glow with warmth and life. The architecture is perfect for the area of the country. It’s a great mix of modern design with a colonial/European flair. The ceiling treatments may, inside the store, detract from the merchandise but in the photographs, these ceiling treatments add grace and symmetry to the overall design of the store. The soft, warm colors mixed with the dark brown wood tones combine friendliness and the feeling of a very upscale shopping experience. The spindle legs of the case-line feel fresh and new compared to the bulk of standard cases. They also add a feeling of grace and lightness to the overall design.— Linda Cahan , Cahan & Company
  • Overall the store appears as a contemporary yet slightly serious environment. I know from first-hand experience we are missing the warmth of the sales staff, which is a big part of this retailer’s strategy. But would I label this store ‘cool”?
  • One of the many challenges retailers face when designing additional venues is how to retain the essential aspects of their retail brand while adapting new up-to-date technology and design features. The integration of old and new is extremely well thought-out and beautifully executed here. Materials and craftsmanship appear to be of fine quality, colors are pleasing and comforting. There is an authoritative feel to the environment that is positive and would inspire confidence in the consumer.
  • The overhead showcase lighting and lack of interior showcase light fixtures and conduits that often obstruct viewing the jewelry, is smart and “cool”. The clean edged glass cases joined invisibly, allow for the viewer to engage more intimately with the products. Simply, the merchandise is closer to the customer and more accessible.
  • The curved cases and drop lighting are the cool aspects of this store.
  • The balance between traditional and contemporary is well done. The store’s design features are such that they can successfully attract both younger and more mature consumers.— Pam Levine , Levine Design Group
  • I do understand this jeweler has been in business over 100 years … but I would still recommend the word “jewelers” be used on the outside of their beautiful building. A new person in town or passersby might not recognize the name as a jewelry store. The inside truly gives a warm feeling. I like the treatment of different types of showcases. It is not at all intimidating. It appears to have middle-class appeal, but still contains high- end goods for those customers who want them. In other words, something for everyone.— Richard Swetz , IJO
  • What I like about this store immediately was the warmth and richness of the showroom. The showcases are gorgeous and elegant and draw your eye directly to the merchandise. The floor layout with its curved lines allows a customer to meander about comfortably. The suspended areas of ceiling with lighting adds a comfortable feel.
  • I particularly liked the boxy showcases on either side of the entrance — a very artistic way to display product. Nicely done.— Ron Wattsson , ‘Cool Store’ Winner 2004

 

PHOTO GALLERY (5 IMAGES)

Trace Shelton is the editor-in-chief of INSTORE magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

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