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A True
Georgia Peach

113-year-old store moves to ideal location in Savannah's historic district.

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Levy Jewelers, Savannah, GA

URL: www.levyjewelers.com; OWNER: Lowell Kronowitz; FOUNDED: 1900; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2012; AREA: 5,000 square feet; OPENED BUILD-OUT COST: $700,000; EMPLOYEES: 21 full-times, 4 part-times ; TOP BRANDS: Rolex, TAG Heuer, David Yurman, John Hardy, Mikimoto, Pandora, Waterfords; ONLINE PRESENCE: Yelp Rating: 3 Stars; Facebook: 1,685 Likes; ALEXA TRAFFIC RANK:3,115,710


MOVING INTO ITS SLEEK and and sunny new flagship last year put Levy Jewelers literally at the center of Savannah — a place the store has occupied figuratively for generations.

In a city celebrated for its long and storied history, the new Levy’s shows respect for the traditions. Lustrous as the pearls that are a special favorite of owner Lowell Kronowitz, this is a classic jewelry store of neutral tones and fine wood, brilliantly lighted to show off the dazzle of its merchandise. The one expanse of vivid color comes from the green of a Rolex display.

Good taste and top brands have been staples at Levy’s for much of its history, which dates back a whopping 113 years. Lowell Kronowitz is the great-grandson of founder Aaron Malitz Levy, a Polish immigrant who opened a small watch repair shop in 1900.

It was Kronowitz who extended the Levy chain from its two stores in Savannah to a third location in Jacksonville, FL.

And it was he who in 2011 decided to gamble with the purchase and remodeling of a three-story building in Savannah’s Historic District at the corner of Bull and Broughton streets — roughly the city’s Hollywood and Vine.

The move was motivated by practical concerns, says Kronowitz: Levy’s had simply outgrown its longtime space just a block away.

But the romance of the location appealed to him as well. The mid-century modern structure, originally built as a Lerner’s department store, was the commercial hub of his childhood downtown. Intermittently vacant, the building became a restaurant, then stood empty once again. On a December day in 2011, Kronowitz passed by, noticed the “For Sale” sign, and, as he recalls, “had an epiphany.” Three weeks later, the building was his.

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A Savannah boy, born and bred, Kronowitz left home at 17 for college and an eventual career as a Wall Street bond trader.

Being a member of a large family in what is still a small city (the current population is just under 150,000) seemed “claustrophobic” to Kronowitz as a boy. “I felt like I couldn’t sneeze on the south side of town and not have my mother, who was downtown, hear about it before I even got home,” he says.

When Lowell Kronowitz headed north, his cousin Aaron owned the store. Under his direction, which began in 1962, Levy’s began to focus more on fine jewelry, becoming the city’s first American Gem Society store.

“As a young boy, I spent many days visiting (the) store,” Kronowitz says, “but never considered that I would one day come to be the fourth generation of our family to run this business.”

When he agreed to come back to Savannah and bought the store in 2003, his cousin Aaron served as his mentor. “I couldn’t have had a better and more well-respected teacher,” he says, citing Aaron’s “patience in teaching me the nuts and bolts of the industry.”

Eight years later, Kronowitz took his fateful stroll past the old Lerner’s building, which came with a unique set of challenges in the four stationary columns that supported the entire 21,000-square-foot structure. Jewelry store planners Artco out of Miami clad the columns in wood to create a signature feature of the store’s interior.

The rest of Levy’s flagship crew was all Savannah, with 90 percent of the work done by local tradesmen. For his architect, Kronowitz hired an historic preservation specialist at Savannah’s 70-year-old Hansen firm.

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Per instructions, Patrick Phelps created the gleaming 5,000-square-foot retail space, a children’s play area, a customer TV lounge, a refreshment bar, corporate offices, and a roof garden for employees and special events.

The architect also contributed the idea for the store’s dramatic exterior up-lighting, colored floods that illuminate the upper stories of the building, changing with the season or occasion.

“The response to the color lighting has been overwhelmingly positive and has created a tremendous buzz in the community,” Kronowitz says. “We are developing a contest for our customers to select the color as well.”

In addition to the professional advice he received, “We had a lot of folks putting an oar in the water and pulling on this project,” says Kronowitz, who runs his operation with chief strategist Stacy Sullivan and chief operations officer Tony Boggs.

Sullivan and he “traveled far and wide visiting and learning from a lot of jewelry retailers all across the country as to what we should and shouldn’t do. I am very thankful to (those) who were so generous with their time and ideas.”

For a family operation, Levy Jewelers is a bit low on Levys at the moment, Kronowitz being the only member of the family currently working at the business. But he credits his employees, some of whom have spent their lifetimes working at Levy’s, with guarding the flame, at least temporarily.

Kronowitz, the father of three, says his fondest wish is to see a fifth generation of his family run the store.

PHOTO GALLERY (5 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Levy Jewelers

1. CREDIT: In the late 1920s, Levy Jewelers became the first store in Savannah to offer credit.

2. ROOF DECK: The new location has a roof deck that has been outfitted with an outdoor kitchen and grill, seating areas and umbrellas for staff and customers to relax and enjoy.

3. COLONIAL HERITAGE: When the basement of the new Levy’s building was excavated, workmen unearthed dirt that one historian believes may not have been exposed to air since Colonial days.

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4. SERVICE CENTER: The new store includes a state-of-the-art service center for onsite master jewelers and Rolex-certified watch repairmen.

5. EQUAL RIGHTS: Levy’s is a longtime advocate for equal rights. In the 1950s and ’60s, the store was picketed for selling to African American customers. Today, it is a strong supporter of Savannah’s gay community, advertising its selection of commitment-ceremony rings. “Our family history includes serving all communities before it becomes socially fashionable.”

Try This: Two Banks

Kronowitz advises maintaining a separate payroll account at a different bank from the store’s other business. “If you find yourself in a bind with your borrowing institution, they will not be able to garnish your payroll account and you can still pay your staff.

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Jim Tuttle:  The daring exterior of Levy Jewelers is fabulous! Better to have some hate it than everyone ignore it. Very cool!

David Hollingshead:  The restoration of the exterior is in keeping with the street and in character with the respectful nature for heritage in Savannah. The exterior lighting moves the building into the present and announces the wonders awaiting inside. The interior is executed beautifully. It feels current yet remains traditional.

Tony Pagliuca:  Clean and sharp interior layout with great ceiling architectural elements. I like the simple execution of detail. The exterior lighting is impactful — very nice.

Angelique Knafo: Impressive interior architecture including stations with sinuous curves that draw the shopper in. The beautiful lines are mirrored in the sweeping ceiling molding. Lovely showcases and cohesive window furnishings create a balanced shopping experience where the jewelry shines. The outdoor lighting [makes Levy] the beacon of style in Savannah!

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SPONSORED VIDEO

Wilkerson Testimonials

To Generate Funds for a Jeweler’s Move and Remodel, Wilkerson More Than Delivered

Even successful jewelers need a little extra cash to fund expansion plans—especially when there’s inventory on hand that’s ripe for liquidation. For Beaumont, Texas-based jeweler Michael Price, co-owner of Mathews Jewelers, it was the perfect time to call Wilkerson. Price talked to other jewelers as well as vendors for advice during the selection process and decided to go with Wilkerson. And he wasn’t disappointed. When it comes to paying for the move and expansion, Price says the road ahead is clear. “When we close on the next two stores, there’s no worries about finances.”

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