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ACS 2007: Fifth Place, Saxon’s Fine Jewelers

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Saw Point: Oregon business doesn’t have the usual run-of-the-mill story.

Saxon’s Fine Jewelers

Location: Bend, OR
Owners: Bruce Plummer and Ron and Annette Henderson
URL: www.saxonsfinejewelers.com
Year founded: 1983
Opened featured location: 2006
Store area: 3,785 square feet (store); 11,458 entire building
Employees: 14
Architect/design firm: CIDA Architecture/Ron Henderson
Value of land and building: $4.1 million
Slogan: “The Gem in the Heart of the Old Mill”

STORE FACTS

The Fuel Building, with its 18-inch-thick brick walls, was an amazing bit of precision building — off by only a quarter-inch, corner to corner. 6The powerhouse next door, with three massive smokestacks rising 305 feet into the air, is a focal point in the town of Bend.

HOW THEY GOT THERE

Logging into A New Niche

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Adying industry gave a fresh new idea to the creative retailers at Saxon’s Fine Jewelers.

Bend, oregon, is known for its extremes, with desert and forest, lava and snow, volcanoes and plains.

But the contrasting demographics of rustic and urban hip are part of what moved Bruce Plummer and Ron and Annette Henderson to convert an old sawmill into a jewelry store. Today, Saxon’s Fine

Jewelers is part of a retail revitalization development called The Shops at the Old Mill District.

Bend is a scenic town that was voted the sixth best place in the country to live and work. But long before the time of mountain bikes, trail hikes and world-class ski and golf resorts, the area was known for its logging industry in the heart of the Cascade Mountains.

Ron and Annette Henderson opened their first trade shop in 1979. Bruce Plummer’s store was one of 11 retail accounts for the Hendersons. The three teamed up as business partners to open a mall store in 1983.

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In 2004, the mall’s owners made it known they wanted more national names and began edging out local business owners. At about the same time, The Old Mill developers started courting Plummer and the Hendersons. So in January 2005 they let their lease expire. The Old Mill had also begun attracting big national names of its own so it seemed like the right move.

But gut instincts aside, the lease for their once cozy mall location expired in the dead of winter and the old, cold Fuel Building, built in the 1920s, wouldn’t be ready to be a fine jewelry store for another 18 months.

“In addition to all the stresses of the build-out, we had to keep a 20-plus-year-old business going out of a temporary location to make sure we could keep the momentum going for fourth-quarter sales,” Ron Henderson recounts.

One of the first tasks was to make the old building structurally sound. Long stainless screws were drilled into the brick for seismic bracing. Three stories of steel beams were added inside to create a secure structure within the old building. “It was like building a ship in a bottle,” Henderson says.

With a structural skeleton in place Henderson was ready to add some flesh on the bone. CIDA Architecture was contracted for the job, but Henderson did some exterior and most of the interior design work himself. Part of the challenge in restoring the old Fuel Building was to make the structure appear less boxy and tall. Complicating the task was making sure the addition wouldn’t conflict with the existing structure. Each brick was cleaned by hand and placed to match the original structure.

The interior design was a little easier. The structural steel I-beams used to support the 18-inch thick brick walls of the old structure were left exposed for a “warehouse district” appeal. Some

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I-beams even got a hand-ground, engine-turned surface treatment.

Above the front entry door is a 7-foot-diameter circular saw blade. The wood and metal theme continues into the store with reclaimed, 90-year-old hardwood boards from Utah. The resulting floors have a patchy, old-fashioned look. A textured tin ceiling and vintage lighting complement the hardwood floors and provide added retro appeal.

But Plummer and the Hendersons couldn’t resist adding a more contemporary feature. The focal point on the back wall is a hand-carved, backlit glass wall featuring a hand-finished and ground stainless-steel “S,” the store’s logo.

The broken-edge glass shelves against the hand-distressed copper make a bold statement. This is about as avant-garde as the décor dares go in a building that roared in the 1920s. — Paul Holewa

FIVE COOL THINGS ABOUT SAXON’S FINE JEWELERS

1 To the Source

During their travels Bruce Plummer and the Hendersons became partners with S.A. Gems/ Festdiam. The South African DTC sightholder allows them to buy directly in Johannesburg. Plummer and the Hendersons have since taken clients to Africa.

2 Music Lovers

Saxon’s has helped bring such artists as BB King, Ray Charles and the Neville Brothers to Bend. The store also hosts Smooth Jazz Christmas shows that have featured Warren Hill, Ray Parker Jr. and Euge Groove.

3 Magical Martinis

At Saxon’s Old Mill Martini Bar “Diamond Vodka Martinis” sell for $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 featuring real diamonds on a stickpin in the glass. The diamonds can then be reset or used as a gift certificate in the store.

4 Gem of a Cake

At one anniversary party, staff had the store’s signature gem cake, filled with over $20,000 in giveaways, delivered via an armored car. When it backed up to the front doors out came two “James Bond-type” women armed with shotguns.

5 Customer Care

One year Saxon’s sponsored a Ray Charles concert and reserved 40 seats in the first two rows for clients. Saxon’s staff asked that the rows’ center-stage seats be removed for a terminal cancer patient who was confined to a wheelchair.

         TRUE TALES

Saxon’s Stories

Take your pick — there’s the time thousands of dollars worth of jewelry were moved in 10 trips using a shopping cart from neighboring store REI. Or the time a woman who owns and operates a local animal sanctuary left the animals at Saxon’s for an hour while she continued her shopping. Or the old building’s former tenants — which included 100 pigeons and two families of nesting Canada geese. Wildlife biologists relocated the birds.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

Craig Underwood
2006 Cool Store Winner

The history of this building is way cool. Maintaining the brick structure allowed them the delicate balancing act of creating a new store yet maintaining the style and feel of the original mill district. Viewing the finished building, it’s obvious to see their dedication in preserving the local culture. The historic exterior draws you in to this store. Anybody walking by is sure to appreciate this dedication and it’s bound to win over the customers before they even take their first step into the store.

Rhonda Faber Green
Jewelry Designer

The store revives the 1920s industrial era when pine mills brought prosperity to the town of Bend, OR. An ominous 7-foot-diameter saw blade dons the ceiling of the entry. Completing the turn-of-the-century look are steel beams, hand-plastered walls, pressed-tin ceilings, and vintage lighting. It’s simple. It’s lovely.

Leatrice Eiseman
Color Specialist

This store is perhaps my favorite based on the integrity of the design that pays homage to the era in which the structure was built. The architect and designers created a feeling of the past with features like a tin ceiling framed by elegant custom crown molding in black and a complementary woodgrain trim — nicely done. Old-fashioned elements are contrasted nicely with more modern touches like the colorful center island with the store’s “S” logo on it in a stylized font. They’ve done a phenomenal job on this store in honoring the historical qualities of the structure.

Larry Johnson
Merchandising Expert

A fine jewelry store in an old mill building: How cool is that?

Shane Decker
Sales Trainer

The way they transformed the existing brick façade is incredibly charming. The 90-year-old oak floors are awesome. But just as impressive is the fact that they go overseas to buy diamonds, which takes a lot of effort, time and courage.

Nick Failla
Sales Consultant

Wonderful compilation of old meets new! Textures coupling crystal with hewn wood offer a relaxing and warm environment. One does not doubt that Saxon’s appreciates both their heritage and community while still displaying the finest jewelry in an appropriate setting. Restoring historic buildings or renovating dead space is especially appreciated by the local community. This can help to position a fine jewelry store in a very positive light within the community. Often positive attention from the media is an added benefit.

Berj Alexanian
Jewelry Display Designer

Saxon’s is full of action throughout.

David Peters
Jewelry Educator

Paying homage to its location’s historic past, Saxon’s has transformed a vintage industrial structure into the perfect environment for selling fine jewelry.

Ruth Failer
Tradeshow Consultant

I love the fact that they took an old pine mill and included all of the character of this historic building. The owners take an active interest in the products they buy as well as giving back to the places they purchase from.

Deborah E. Hecht
Wholesale Jewelry Rep

Saxons has created a stir! Dry, with “100 Diamond” vodka. How creative is that? It amazes me how some stores just click. Curbside to inside they have just run with their passion and made the best of it. How many stores do you know that arrange a gem safari to Bangkok or a pearl scuba diving adventure off the coast of Phuket? It doesn’t mean you can’t do the same. You could even stay stateside and take a group to the Yogo mines in Montana. The point is that these are people with a “vivre” for life

STORE IMAGES

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This story is from the August 2007 edition of INSTORE

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