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America's Coolest Stores

ACS 2006: Seventh Place (Tie), Fox’s Gem Shop



Fox’s Gem Shop

Address: 1341 5th Avenue; Seattle, WA 98101
Owners: Chai and Joy Mann
Phone: (206) 623-2528
Year founded: 1912
Opened featured location: 1979
Total Store Area: 5,000 sq. ft., 3,000 is retail space
Employees: 17 employees
2005 Revenues: “Multimillion-seller”
Land cost: N/A
Building cost: N/A
Design/architectural firms cost: N/A
Current estimated property value: N/A
Last remodelling: 1979
Slogan: “Seattle’s Jeweler since 1912”

Five Cool Things About Fox’s Gem Shop


Retro Cool

“Our store is so old now it’s back in style,” says third-generation owner Zoey Mann. “We seriously have done no renovations since 1979.” Yet, customers are almost inevitably impressed by the striking, timeless structure of Fox’s Gem Shop, which features 26-foot-high ceilings, hand-painted silk on the walls, natural wood and glass and bronze-colored fixtures. Thanks go to Zoey’s grandparents, Sid and Berta Thal, for showing such foresight when building the store, says owner Chai Mann: “They wanted something luxurious in a comfortable way, something that wouldn’t go out of style in a few years.” Clearly, that mission was accomplished.



Guys Club

Who would have thought of a jewelry store as a meeting place for sports-loving guys? But the watch section of Fox’s Gem Shop, says Zoey, is where men love to hang out. “Guys love having their own space here,” she says of the area, which is upstairs and also has a separate entrance. “They’ll sit up there for hours. The kids will be in the play area downstairs and their wives will go to Nordstrom’s.”


Just Relax

“My dad shows up to work in sandals with socks and shorts and a T-shirt,” says Zoey. “We think that’s an upgrade from the tennis shoes with the different colored laces, we’re not quite sure.” Chai Mann’s dress code (which doesn’t apply to the salespeople) speaks to Fox’s Gem Shop’s decidedly unstuffy vibe.



Out of the Ordinary

“We carry the smaller niche watch brands that you don’t find everywhere, such as Panerai, IWC, Ulysse Nardin and Glashutte,” says Zoey. That’s often surprising to customers looking for, say, a Rolex or a TAG Heuer. “Sometimes they’re like, ‘Wait, you don’t have Rolex?’” and we’ll say “No, but let me show you something else.” One customer, she says, wanted to buy a Rolex for his daughter’s graduation from business school. “He walked away with this amazing Ulysse Nardin watch, and his daughter loves it.”


Big Ideas

“We’re pretty liberal,” says Chai Mann, who with his wife, Joy, an artist, has no problem showing off his political leanings — through art. “Joy has won a number of awards for our window displays, which often include teddy bears, Disney figures and hobo art,” he says. “People come in wanting to buy our props, they don’t even realize we’re a jewelry store.” Joy’s displays extend to political topics such as mines in Vietnam and a series on child abuse that included watches and the tagline “It’s time to stamp out child abuse.” — Sharon Goldman



Chai Mann, Owner Fox’s Gem Shop

1 So how does it feel to be thought of as cool?

I have no idea why anyone would think we’re cool. We do nothing that people think we’re supposed to do.

2 So how would you describe yourself, if not as cool?

We’re quirky. It’s a very elegant store, but we don’t go after high-profile companies. We like independent designers that you don’t see very often. We’re the only store at Christmas that hardly has any jewelry in the window displays.

3 What’s with the shorts and sandals?

If I’m going to be here X amount of time, I want to be comfortable. When I took over the business 27 years ago, women were required to wear black dresses and pearls, and men wore three-piece suits. I threw that out the window in 1986, which even seems a little late. I guess my father- and mother-in-law convinced everyone you had to be formally dressed to shop with us. I spent years destroying that image.

4 Any things you’ve learned never to do?

I’ve learned never to assume people see us the same way we see ourselves. We may think we’re really casual, but people may bring their own biases in and see as really formal because our décor is on the formal side.

5 What’s it like having a three-generation family business?

You get a wonderful historical feeling of business in general. The new generation will say “oh no, business is bad” or “oh, business is great”, but the calming influence of the older generation has been through this before — they know it won’t always be this good or bad.


Three things you might overhear inside Fox’s Gem Shop, according to Chai Mann:

1. “Make it happen!” (“I’ve always said that to our employees — we even used to have a sign up in the doorway that said that.”)

2. “Here’s why advertising is important!” (Chai: “That’s what Zoey always says to me because I’m cheap when it comes to advertising.”)

3. “Tell people the truth.” (Chai: “That’s something I really believe: if you tell people the truth, you don’t have to remember anything you said.”)


Bruce Brigham
Retail Clarity

It is a very cool thing that a design developed and implemented way back in 1979 can still be on our list of cool stores for 2006!  Fox’s has a wonderful clubby, masculine feel to it, but yet it is warm, elegant, and inviting.

I especially like the way the display windows are integrated into the storefront.  The tall, thin strips of glazing between the solid elements that hold the display windows create a wonderful pattern of light and dark.

I am not sure how a store can possibly focus on “every demographic”.  I think this more traditional design is very strong for Fox’s more traditional customers.  So to that extent, the design plays to the strengths of the brand. But I would not expect this store to attract the more hip and fashion-forward crowd.

Celeste Sotola
Interior Designer

The warm wall color accents the angular gold-frame lighting like a traveling setting waiting for a gem — it wraps you into the environment. With scattered seating throughout, the jewelry becomes a
collection of conversations, with each spot a different story.

I love the “changing windows every month” concept. Life is never the same, and eyes need reminding that who is inside knows it.

I think a beautiful painting on the entire center column would separate the walls from the center and give it a touch of exotic romance.

I love the tall dramatic ceilings! They give an intimate compressed feeling to the lower peopled space.

Lori Wegman
Wegman Design Group

The voluminous ceilings and suspended lights make it look like jewelry is hanging from the ceiling.

Tapestry upholstery on seating has to go.

Love the design of the showcases.

Gary and Kathy Bigham
Bigham Jewelers

Fox’s has a very cool, artsy feel! The design of the store, as well as the name, leaves one with the impression that they carry unusual and unique pieces. The drama of the high ceilings and glass entry is appealing upon entering the store. The multi-level floor plan maintains a sense of intimacy, and is a great use of space in that it creates departments within the showroom. What an innovative way to separate watches from jewelry!

Ruth Batson
American Gem Society

This store has a design that has moved from 1979 to 2006 with no remodelling required. The clean lines and artful use of windows make it a classic approachable by a wide range of potential customers.

Ellen Fruchtman
Fruchtman Marketing

It’s contemporary and cool by most standards — let alone it was remodeled in 1979! That deserves some kudos.

I would consider lighter-looking fixtures, so your eye isn’t drawn as much up and more on the cases.

Kate Peterson
Performance Concepts

It seems like a good fit for the eclectic, busy, Seattle market.

Initially, it looked a little “busy” to me.

Rick Segel

It’s in perfect alignment — its look, image, history, and reputation all blend beautifully together.

This store has a sensational website.


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This story is from the August 2006 edition of INSTORE



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