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Boulder store infuses fine art and creativity into traditional jewelry gallery model.

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SMALL COOL 2ND PLACE: Art + Soul, Boulder, CO
Art + Soul, Boulder, CO

OWNER: Debbie Klein; URL: artandsoulboulder.com; FOUNDED: 2000; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018; TOTAL NUMBER OF LOCATIONS: 7; DESIGN FIRM: Coburn Design; ARCHITECTURE: Wilder Architecture; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 4 part-time; AREA: 1,400 square feet; 4,000 square feet total; 13,600 total square feet; TOP BRANDS: Adel Chefridi, Alex Sepkus, TAP By Todd Pownell, Anne Sportun, Annette Ferdinandsen; ONLINE PRESENCE: 1,878 Facebook likes, 3,785 Instagram followers, 4.7 stars on Google; BUILDOUT COST: $100,000


ART + SOUL = OWNER Debbie Klein’s dream store. Especially after a short move up the block and a significant downsizing into a space almost two-thirds smaller than her original location — which was named one of America’s Coolest Jewelry Stores by INSTORE back in 2011.

The new space feels light and airy, with barely-there showcases, suspended and modern lighting, white walls and soft-toned flooring. Locally crafted artwork graces the walls, with a different artist showcased every six to eight weeks.

The original location, which Klein inhabited for 18 years, was a 3,300 square-foot space that was rented primarily to showcase art. “I do think that having the art helped sell the jewelry and vice-versa. It was a unique environment for our area,” she says. “But ultimately, I wanted to simplify and focus on the jewelry. I still have the art, but jewelry is what we had become known for.”

Store mascot Harry Winston relaxes on the sofa near the entrance of Art + Soul

Store mascot Harry Winston relaxes on the sofa near the entrance of Art + Soul.

During that span, Klein found that working with fine artists had grown more challenging and less exciting, while working with jewelry designers had become more invigorating. Not only that, but jewelry sales had quickly eclipsed art sales.

“Art is difficult. You’re talking to a client, and they’re trying to explain to you the color of their wall. But when a client puts on a pair of earrings, it’s an instant connection,” says Klein.

So, while the original Art + Soul location was certainly cool, it was also really big — with most of its profits coming from a product that’s really small. “Over the last 10 years that I was in the larger space, I always thought, ‘I wish I had a cute little store that would be easy to maintain and would cost less,’” says Klein.

She remodeled in 2016, including all-new casework and lighting. Around the same time, her costs of occupancy rose dramatically. As she was walking to the post office one day, she passed a space that had been a skateboard shop and was now for lease. “It was everything I had been looking for but never had looked for,” Klein says.

After locking in the new location, Klein began working on how to configure the much smaller space. “I built showcases in graph paper to scale to see how my case configuration would work, where would I put my safe, and what to do with my big sofa and cash wrap. My husband (Nelson Kugel, owner of The Gondolier restaurants) is good at spatial relations because he plans kitchens, but we spent a lot of time playing around to figure it out.” In the end, everything fit almost perfectly, with just one showcase going into storage.

Because Klein had already talked about colors and materials with an interior designer in 2016, as well as having casework and cabinetry done, she felt she was already most of the way there in designing the new store. The floor had to be reinforced for the safe because the store is located above a parking garage. And the flooring itself added a dimension to the showroom’s feel.

Art+Soul owner Debbie Klein

Art+Soul owner Debbie Klein

“I was looking for a softer, cleaner, more feminine look,” says Klein, who wanted the showroom to feel light and open while still being enclosed and intimate. “It’s a composite floating floor with a gray wash on it. We had some challenges because the floor wasn’t level and my landlord didn’t want me to glue anything down. I knew I needed a light floor and a dark ceiling or vice versa, and I thought the light floor would be less maintenance and feel more airy.”

The key to the whole space, though, for Klein, was the chandelier. “In the old location, we had a cool sculptural door that people loved. I wanted to take it with me, but it was going to cost me $15,000 to move. So, I found this amazing light fixture by Gabriel Scott that looks like huge diamonds to be my new signature piece. I wanted something interesting, artistic and feminine, and when I saw this — it was a little bit more than the budget, but I knew it was meant to be.” Since then, celebrity Kylie Jenner has installed the same fixture in her kitchen — in purple. But, as Klein points out, “We had it first!”

One major change for the new location is how Art + Soul handles the “art” portion of its business. In the old space, the store carried 10-20 artists at a time, rotating the artwork on the walls, holding shows and storing 20-50 paintings in a back room. But in the new space, there is no back room. The solution? An artist’s work is shown throughout the entire showroom for several weeks, and then rotated out for a new artist. “It changes the vibe of the store every time we do it,” says Klein. “These are mostly emerging young artists from Denver, and it makes the store a little more fun. Choosing the art is more of an emotional decision now than it was before; it’s more about creating an environment.”

While the art is handled differently, the bread and butter of Art + Soul continues to be designer jewelry, particularly bridal. What’s unusual about the store is that it has no custom jewelers on premises. Instead, it offers custom design and remodel through the designers themselves.

The concept, which Art + Soul calls “Designlab,” springs from the genesis of the store itself: A friend of Klein’s got engaged and was given her mother-in-law’s ring as an engagement ring, but it didn’t fit her personality or lifestyle.

“When I saw Anne Sportun’s line at a trade show in Philadelphia, I thought of my friend and how much she would like this line, and how well Anne’s work would fit into our Boulder lifestyle,” Klein says. Today’s jewelry client is even more obsessed with individuality and customization of product.

Art + Soul snow flake collages

Art + Soul snow flake collages

“We were working with a lot of people on ring designs and remounts,” says Klein. “Designer Adel Chefridi is amazing at things like that; Todd Pownell as well. Designlab is a service we’ve offered for quite some time, but branding it allowed us to let people know what we do. When people want new jewelry but they don’t want to spend a lot of money, it’s a way to get them something new and different by upgrading their existing pieces.”

Klein says she only works with designers who are willing to offer this service because that’s how the store wants to take care of its customers. “It would be challenging to work with someone who wouldn’t take custom requests,” she says.

Ultimately, Klein believes it was fate that led her to this business model, in this space, in this city, with this name: Art + Soul. “It’s not the most original name in the world,” she laughs. “But it just said what I wanted the store to be. It had to move you, but it also had to be fun. It’s a little playful. We can’t take ourselves too seriously.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • JACQUELINE CASSAWAY: Art + Soul provides a contemporary shopping experience.
  • KATHERINE COTTERILL: I love the snowflakes! The store is modern and inviting, and it has a great collection of wearable and wall art!
  • MEGAN CRABTREE: No one wants a cookie-cutter ring that everyone has, and Art + Soul has developed a unique concept by having Designlab events. Not only allowing the customer to be a part of every design aspect, but to have the designer in house makes the experience even more personal and unique!
  • LARRY JOHNSON: An intriguingly creative combination of art and jewelry that fits well with the demographics and interests of Boulder.
  • PAM LEVINE: Art + Soul is cool: Innovative brand imagery, graphics, and overall brand consistency are seamlessly represented throughout a space of modern luxury. A contemporary environment fitted with floating showcases provides an inviting, light, open, and refreshing sense of spaciousness. Understated natural interior tones, artwork, and a mobile light fixture elevates the aura. Intimate vignette jewelry displays prompt focus, browsing, and exploration within a sense of privacy.
  • ALP SAGNAK: This one seems to be a good business. Great product in there!
PHOTO GALLERY (15 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Art + Soul

1 DESIGNER SNOWFLAKES. For the past four years when the holiday season rolls around, Art + Soul has created snowflake patterns constructed from designer jewelry as a way to show off the creators they carry. The snowflakes run in their ads, on their website and on social media. “It’s become our signature,” says Klein. “It’s creative, but it also shows the variety of work that we represent.”

2 ONLINE EXCELLENCE. Klein has emphasized the store’s online presence for years, and when the coronavirus arrived and everyone had to go into quarantine, it paid off. “For the last three months, at least 60 percent of our business has been online,” she says. She makes sure inventory stays current via a Shopify platform (“I don’t have to call a web guy every time I want to change a picture on the home page”). “I have always really thought of our website as a marketing tool: You want to create an atmosphere with visuals, you want the user experience to be easy and accessible, and the verbiage to be friendly.” Klein is in the process of revising the website to be more product-forward, with less text.

3 PICTURE FRAME WINDOW. Art + Soul’s front window display case is made of gilded picture frame molding to emphasize that the store’s jewelry is a form of fine art. In her old space, Klein had always wanted an eye-level window box, so she made sure she had it in the new space. Says Klein: “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to frame the jewelry as a traditional painting?’”

4 CHAT FUNCTION. When the pandemic hit in March, Klein realized they had to find a way to continue to sell. So, she added a chat window function to her website, which has paid off in spades. “It would always ding when you couldn’t answer it, like Murphy’s Law,” she says of the chat window. “It’s tapered off a bit. But when the world shut down, that was an easy way for us to be available.”

5 20 YEARS OF SOUL. The Art + Soul gallery celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent quarantining and restrictions have put a damper on the celebration. “It’s a big deal, but we’re going to play it low-key and hopefully have an encore next year,” says Klein. “We just have to keep adapting to what happens, revamping the website, continuing to have an online presence and staying in front of people — and hope that things keep getting better.”

Try This: “Art Of Design” Event

For its inaugural fine art show in the new space, the gallery held an event called “The Art of Design.” It contacted top designers Alex Sepkus, Adel Chefridi, Todd Pownell, Anne Sportun, and Heidi Nassar Fink of James Banks Designs and asked them to send hand-drawn sketches of their work. “We had the work scanned, enlarged, and printed on white plexiglass for a clean look, and hung the work on the walls by the designer’s cases where we displayed the pieces they had drawn. It was a unique way for us to show how jewelry design and its process is truly as much art as something that is hanging on the wall,” says Klein.

ONLINE EXTRA : Q&A with Debbie Klein, Owner

How did you get started in jewelry?

I had always worked in art galleries, but I always had a love for jewelry. My grandmother was a huge influence in my life, and she loved jewelry; she actually knew about Alex Sepkus before I did. After I graduated from Boston University with a degree in psychology, I was working at Christie’s auction house in New York in customer service and taking metal-smithing classes at Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts (SVA) for fun. I did that for five years. I was going to try to be a bench jeweler, but I realized I didn’t like messing up other people’s work. So I started working in art galleries.

How did you wind up in Boulder, Colorado?

I moved to Boulder because I have friends from college who are here, and we used to go on Grateful Dead tour together. I was very into music and art and jewelry, and I wanted to be with my friends and do more art and jewelry on my own.

Your store was initially intended primarily as an art gallery. How did you make the transition to jewelry?

When I opened my store, the jewelry I started with was mostly silver, lower-end but crafty. No diamonds, really, nothing major. But I had a friend who got engaged, and she was given her mother-in-law’s ring, and it was huge and she was uncomfortable with that. I was at a trade show in Philadelphia and I met designer Anne Sportun. I thought her line was so organic and easy to wear, and I knew that is what my friend would have picked. I didn’t know anything about gemstones or diamonds particularly, but I had a lot of really great people who helped me, got a great education through GIA and got hooked.

Why did you choose to sell designer jewelry?

We started selling Anne Sportun’s work like crazy for bridal. The word started spreading immediately. It gave me the confidence to bring in more precious stones, more gold, and elevate my price point a bit. Then I met Jeff Feero from Alex Sepkus a year or two later at the same trade show in Philadelphia, what is now known as the American Made Show. They were in a hotel room across the street. It was a big risk and I was scared to death, but I brought in five rings and it was the most I had spent on anything ever. But soon, we were one of their biggest accounts. People in Boulder wanted something unique and different that they couldn’t buy at a traditional jewelry store.

Do you have more traffic in your new location?

Our traffic has increased because we’re also across the street from a big parking structure that has retail on the bottom. And now we’re pretty much just a jewelry store. In the old space, people would wander in and there was lots to look at. Now, we’re really a jewelry store that also has art on the wall, and if a person doesn’t want to look in a jewelry store, they keep walking by. We did a good job of letting people where we were going, so we didn’t have a lot of attrition.

How do you manage your art displays?

The artists come in and we hang their show and it’s up for 6-8 weeks, and it changes the vibe of the store every time we do it. We had an amazing show during the pandemic; I don’t know if I would have made it through without it. This artist’s work shows ripples on water, and it was very soothing. We extended the show since the store was closed during the pandemic. We just hung a new show in June, which is big graphic pieces. It’s really fun to have the store feel different every six weeks. These are mostly emerging young artists from Denver, and it makes the store a little more fun.

What is your philosophy on customer service?

I’m a huge proponent of restaurateur and author Danny Meyer. The best customer service book I’ve ever read is SETTING THE TABLE: THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF HOSPITALITY IN BUSINESS. In it, Meyer talks about the difference between service and hospitality. Hospitality is how you make someone feel while you’re providing a service for them. In jewelry retail, we work in intimidating items and an intimidating environment, so you want to give off a casual vibe that is warm, friendly and educating without being condescending. So when I interview someone for our staff, I want to know how they make me feel. What is their energy and what are they giving off. You want to have people available who have technical knowledge, and it’s great to have a graduate gemologist on staff, but you can’t get to that point if you can’t make someone feel happy and comfortable. It’s the environment we all aspire to create, even though we’re selling diamonds and not french fries.

Is bridal jewelry still a big part of your business?

Bridal has kept us going through three recessions now. Even when we were closed for the pandemic, we had a lot of couples we were working with and they still wanted to move forward with their wedding bands. Word of mouth has always been integral for us here in Boulder, so we have groups of people who are all friends and they all have rings from the same designer. Bridal has its challenges, because you don’t necessarily turn your merchandise the way you do other lines because of custom and special orders, but we kind of fell into it and it’s continued to grow with other designers. When we were in the old store, we started a curated collection of commitment rings called “Soulmate,” probably around 2016 or so, trying to bring together a bunch of different emerging designers who specialized in bridal. I always feel like there’s a need for alternative bridal in Boulder.

Your website and social media feeds are fantastic. How did you do it?

We had someone who helped with our social media postings until February. I have since taken over, and I’m not that adept at it, but I’m learning. We bought a light box that is amazing and has changed everything, so we’re able to take incredible pictures of our products for our website as well as social media. And with our designers doing such a wonderful job, it makes my job easier to share their stuff. I’m still learning about Instagram Stories, but it is nice to be able show my current focus and what’s new. I’ve realized how important and how challenging it is to present your atmosphere to the world when they can’t get to you.

Trace Shelton is the editor-in-chief of INSTORE magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

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