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Sparkle Hard

Impromptu dance parties are a thing here.

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Update: Sparkles Fine Jewelry closed for business in March 2018.

Sparkles Fine Jewelry, Chicago, IL

URL: sparklesfinejewelry.com; OWNER: Rachel Meyering; FOUNDED: 2013; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2013; DESIGNER: Suzann Kletzien; AREA: 900 square feet; COST OF BUILDOUT: $160,000; EMPLOYEES: 2; TOP BRANDS: Unique Settings of New York, Rony Tennenbaum, Berco; YELP RATING: 5 Stars and Google; FACEBOOK: 294 likes; ALEXA GLOBAL RANK: 21,235,391


WARNING: STEP INTO SPARKLES and you may find music blasting and people dancing wildly. For owner Rachel Meyering and her staff, all in their 20s, dance breaks are a way to unwind. “If it’s been a little crazy, we just turn up the music and dance a little,” Meyering says. “Customers don’t mind. They know we’re crazy.”

Fortunately, in Andersonville, a hip-but-friendly urban village in Northside Chicago, personal expression is encouraged. Less than two years since opening, the store and its fun-loving staff have found a place in the heart of a progressive community.

Millennial Enterprise

After a decade working in various aspects of the jewelry industry, from wholesale to retail management, Meyering decided to open her own business at age 28. With help from friends and family, she leased an empty storefront on Clark Street, Andersonville’s main drag, and within a month, transformed it into a vibrant, elegant space — opening in September 2013, just in time for the holidays.

Meyering worked closely with Chicago designer Suzann Kletzien to incorporate a “sparkle” theme throughout, starting with spiky sunburst chandeliers in the front windows. On one wall, 3-D metallic starbursts appear to pop out of the wallpaper, balanced by a serene, watery mural painted by a local artist on the opposite wall. Vivid teal tufted ottomans and drapes pop against the store’s black-and-white color scheme and natural light slants in from skylights over the desks.

Meyering has a degree in corporate communications, and everyone on staff is GIA-educated. Both employees are silversmiths who design custom jewelry in-house.

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An LGBT Favorite

By coincidence, gay marriage laws went into effect just after Sparkles opened its doors. The first sale was to a gay couple who saw the staff setting up before the store had opened, and knocked. They bought their rings the next day and held their engagement party in the store, befriending the staff and introducing all their friends.

Presto, Sparkles became a favorite jewelry source for a thriving LGBT community suddenly free to marry. “It’s been an exciting time in Chicago,” Meyering says. “Andersonville is a great neighborhood. Everyone is so friendly and we have a large gay community.” Seventy percent of Sparkles’ sales are to men, most of whom are gay.

Gay couples usually require more rings in quicker succession than straight couples, Meyering says. “They propose and, as soon as they have a band, they’re engaged so they come back and buy another one right away.”

Key to selling to the LGBT community? “You need to make people feel extremely comfortable,” Meyering says. “Sometimes they’re nervous. I’ve heard horror stories about the way people have been treated. In my store, everyone is treated fairly. Everybody should be able to love whoever they want to.”

It’s a mistake to assume gay customers want something specific, she says. “You don’t have to sell them a certain style or certain thing,” Meyering says. “Just treat everyone with respect and try and find exactly what they’re looking for.” Rony Tennenbaum, a New York designer who caters to the LGBT community, sells well at Sparkles and visits the store often to meet customers.

The first couple years have been “a roller coaster ride,” Meyering says. If she’s learned anything, it’s “to get out and meet people. In the beginning stages, it’s all about networking.”

PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Sparkles Fine Jewelry

1. JEWELRY JAMMING.  Only electronic music plays in Sparkles. “We’ve tried playing ’80s or ’90s music in the store using Pandora but we can’t listen to it for more than 30 seconds,” Meyering says. “It’s funny. Certain music works for certain stores, but our customer database is completely different from everyone else’s, even in the industry.”

2. DIY EVENTS.  Sparkles holds make-your-own-ornament events at Christmas and DIY valentines on Valentine’s Day, catering to young families. “We give out ring pops or little sunglasses to the children,” Meyering says. “We want to get the moms in here too, and put a few things on their wish lists.”

3. WISH LISTS.  Keeping wish lists makes it easier for customers to shop locally. “Everyone wants this to be their community,” she says. “They want to support local businesses and they’d rather stay here than go downtown.”

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4. SPARKLE THEME.  “We are seriously committed to ‘sparkle’ here,” Meyering says, including on print materials. Client cards, thank you notes, envelopes, and business cards are all printed on shimmering silver paper. A tray holds candy bracelets with logo and store information on the packaging.

5. SUMMER FESTS.  Andersonville draws some 50,000 visitors to Midsommarfest in June, and Meyering goes all out. “That is definitely the best money we can spend for advertising because you’re out there, talking to people,” she says. “Thousands of people come by and our booth is near the store, so if they find a few things they like, we can easily bring them into the store.”

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Jesse Balaity:  Sparkles just works perfectly for its neighborhood. The space feels urban, current and masculine, with fun finishes and a not-too-serious vibe. The store looks like a lounge where you happen to buy jewelry, which nails the importance of lifestyle marketing necessary for independent stores to thrive.
  • David Kepron:  A good example of what can be accomplished on a limited budget in a small footprint. Very nice contrasts between the peacock blues in curtains and seating against the blacks and grays of walls, floors and casework.
    This small space has a sultry charm and sophistication with plush velvets, dark tones and an accent of gold in decorative lighting.
  • David Iler:  Rachel’s story reflects concern and trust of humanity. These are the building blocks of our industry.
  • Barbara Palumbo:  I was thrilled to read about their passion in making sure that the LGBT community is taken care of and made to feel as welcome as anyone looking to get married.
  • Bryan Eisenberg:  Sparkles’ personality shines through in all the little things they seem to do. There is a wonderful coordination in their branding both in the store, in the decor and online as well.
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