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America's Coolest Stores

ACS 2008: Fifth Place Big Cool, Silverscape Designs

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Silverscape Designs

LOCATION: Northampton, MA
URL: www.silverscapedesigns.com
OWNER: Wallace Perlman
FOUNDED: 1976
OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1993
EMPLOYEES: 19
AREA: 3,000 square feet.
BRANDS: JFA, Roberto Coin, Lazare Diamond, Satava Art Glass

Customers pause on the sidewalk to check the time and temperature on a vintage bank clock, then push open heavy doors to enter a marble and brass gem from another era. The building, which served the banking needs of this western Massachusetts college town for 65 years, was retooled in 1993 as Silverscape Designs. The late Denis Perlman, jeweler and company founder, was faithful to the structure’s history during a meticulous renovation. He preserved the art deco grandeur and, in so doing, created a destination in its own right. “People definitely come to look at the building in addition to the jewelry inside the building,” says general manager Nanami Shiiki. And to be sure, Silverscape has some very nice things for sale.

FIVE COOL THINGS ABOUT SILVERSCAPE DESIGNS

Art deco Heritage

1When Denis Perlman set up shop in the First National Bank building at the corner of Main and King streets 15 years ago, he stayed true to the art deco heritage of the 1928 structure: Original chandeliers were taken out of storage and returned to beautiful service, while custom-built lamps seamlessly matched the display cases to their surroundings. Once the portals of saving and lending, barred teller windows today are stations for repairs and appraisals. The interior’s dominant feature is the stained-glass skylight that depicts the 12 signs of the zodiac.

Handmade Treasures

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2Perlman began designing jewelry as a student at M.I.T. and opened his first Silverscape Designs store in an old Victorian house in Amherst in 1976. Though Perlman died in 2000, many of his designs remain in production, among them the “peach,” “tulip” and “dream” rings. “Our top-selling engagement rings are his designs,” says Shiiki, who has been general manager for the current owners, Perlman’s siblings, for four years. Pieces not made on-site are likely to be the work of notable American craftspeople. Besides jewelry, Silverscape has a variety of handmade lamps, mirrors, clocks and glass pieces. The gift catalog also includes handmade scarves and wooden picture frames and jewelry boxes.

Old-Fashioned Security

3Upon entering the store for the first time, customers’ eyes typically are drawn straight up, toward the skylight, says Shiiki, then to the left, where a large, rectangular door opens to reveal an “old-fashioned, drop-the-floor” bank vault used to secure the inventory. “Drop-the-floor” is a literal description, as the floor has to be moved away whenever the vault door is opened or closed — a two-person job that’s accompanied by the hiss of hydraulics and the beep of alarms being turned on or off.

Diverse Clientele

4Northampton, just two hours west of Boston, is home to Smith College and in close proximity to five other universities. These schools not only create a vibrant intellectual community, they also bring to town students, parents, faculty and alumni from across the country and around the world. It is a diverse clientele, Shiiki says, that “really appreciates education, the arts and artistic creativity.” She credits much of Silverscape’s success to its emphasis on handmade, one-of-a-kind jewelry that appeals to these customers. Four goldsmiths on staff work with clients who have something specific in mind. “They’re looking for quality versus flash,” Shiiki says. “They’re not looking for what everyone else has.”

Staff Connection

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5The staff at Silverscape Designs has a lot of “enthusiasm and pride” in the store, Shiiki says.  Silverscape works to create a culture in which employees feel and relay to customers a “connection to the store.” Employees are encouraged to offer their opinions on merchandise and have an active role in designing displays. Whenever featured artists come to town, Shiiki makes sure the staff gets to meet them and visit. That makes it a much more personal experience for them and allows the sales team to discuss the works more knowledgeably with customers. “For a store owner, it’s important to have a staff that speaks your message,” she says.

COOL FACTS

• When Denis Perlman bought the building, he fixed its old bank clock out front. General manager Nanami Shiiki says many people in the community now depend on it. “If for some reason it’s not working,” she says, “we hear about it.”

• Perlman’s first jewelry store had wheels. He converted a school bus into a traveling workshop and took it cross-country.

         HEARSAY

Heard Around the Store

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”

— A WOMAN FROM NEW JERSEY, upon entering the store for the first time

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         TRY THIS

Retailers have figured out that gift certificates don’t have to be boring; just check out the variety of designs available at your local Target or Starbucks. But Silverscape Designs has a unique alternative to the plastic debit card. The store offers coins struck with the building’s image on one side and a landscape scene — the sun rising over a mountain — on the other. The coins can be purchased at the “scapes” window in denominations of $10 (for a coin made of bronze); $100 (silver); and $1,000 (gold). Although these “scapes” can be redeemed for merchandise, Shiiki says they have become collectibles themselves. “I’ve had people tell me they’ve kept them for years,” she says.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAY

Ann Arnold
Manufacturing expert

The fact that it is in a bank is a wonderful conversation starter and attraction. Other stores should try to find that story that they can use to talk about themselves.

Angus Goble
Architect

A dramatic site and building — a perfect marriage for jewelry stores. I like the creatively considered and planned use of an existing exterior.

Jon Parker
Head Hunter

I’m very impressed with the results of the obvious spare-no-expense restoration of this store to its original grandeur, paying homage to its first life as a bank building. The incorporation of the old brass teller windows and use of the original chandeliers are especially nice touches. Denis Perlman had great vision. However, the interior needs some updating. While the need to protect the store’s historical integrity is important, the store is there for commerce. More than just charm, this place has great stories to share.

Susan Eisen
Retailer

Their great success is in carrying out the theme of the store to the fullest, including the exceptional lighting of the showcases. It looks like a set for a vintage movie. Every detail has been planned and coordinated to give the appearance of an exciting place to be.

Caroline Stanley
Marketing Consultant

I thought this was a great building but, of course, it’s not the housing that makes a store cool. It’s what a jeweler does with the space that makes it special. In this instance, the display cases and especially the lighting stood out, because they create a wonderful atmosphere for customers to soak up.

STORE IMAGES

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This story is from the August 2008 edition of INSTORE

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