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America's Coolest Stores

America’s Coolest Stores 2012: Small Cool 4 Moondance Jewelry Gallery

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If cool were decided by celebrity clientele alone, Santa Monica’s Moondance Jewelry Gallery could stake a fair claim to being the hippest store in America. Its list of Hollywood clients reads like the sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard: Hilary Swank, Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Debra Messing, Kristin Davis, Danny DeVito, Sally Field, Harrison Ford, Jodie Foster, Alanis Morisette, Dustin Hoffman and Arnold Schwarzenegger (among others) have all browsed and bought inside its clean bare-wood interiors.

Moondance’s attraction — meticulously edited selection and tony shopping neighborhood aside — is that movie and music-industry stars can expect to be treated more or less like any other regular client, which means like a king, but in a relaxed, friendly way.

“Everyone has a camera-phone now, so there is really no escape for celebrities anymore. I think they want to feel normal,” says store owner, Orly Ohebsion. “We give them attention, but don’t hover. We just try to be helpful.”

Moondance wasn’t always such an A-list destination. It opened in 1989 as a small local store that specialized in the kind of sterling silver jewelry that was popular at the time. Purchased in 1996 by Ohebsion, who was just 22 at the time, the store gradually evolved into a community institution that offers a remarkable variety of fine jewelry lines including names such as H.Stern, Marco Biego, Hermes (watches) and Temple St. Clair as well as a large selection of costume and fashion jewelry like Me & Ro, Chan Luu, Dogeared, and Dana Kellin to accommodate smaller price points and gift purchases. In addition to the store’s “standing repertoire,” Ohebsion takes pride in finding new talents and stocks a number of local designers and up-and-coming artisans including Ariel Gordon, Sharon Kaplan, and Naomi Gray.

“I love doing the buying and curating and looking for value for my clients,” she says. “I want to find that well-made original piece of work that people will fall in love with.”

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While such searching once involved a lot of traveling to trade shows and abroad, Ohebsion says more and more designers are now beating a path to her store’s doors. “We look at everyone’s work and choose smaller, new designers on the scene for our incubator groupings. Many times these designers will expand their collections based on the success in our store,” she says, listing Sara Horne, Leah Alexandra, Margaret Solow and CC Skye as some the newer designers she is carrying at the moment.

Ohebsion says she fell in love with Moondance and the local area, while working part-time at the store while in college. “Montana Avenue is a very unique neighborhood, very residential, with lots of small boutiques and cafes. People are always walking; walking their dogs, walking to the beach. The area has a great vibe, a great feel. You forget you’re in LA.”

The store has a similar breezy spirit and Ohebsion says she jumped at the chance to buy it when it came on the market not long after she’d joined her family’s non-jewelry business upon graduating from college. “I think the owner was glad it was going to some someone who ‘got it.’” While her celebrity clientele gives the store a glamorous edge, it is the regular customers who are its lifeblood. “They are like me, someone who is part of the community, a mother rushing around, a woman who buys for herself, who loves to have beautiful things, or who needs a special gift for someone or who is celebrating a milestone in her own life.”

Such repeat customers — who might drop in while on the way to their yoga studio — make up as much as 85 percent of Moondance’s client base, meaning staying fresh is critical.

To do this Ohebsion is constantly rotating her lineup. She uses a lot of memo as well as trade-outs with designers.

In addition to jewelry, she has also expanded to offer accessories such as scarves, candles and handbags. “Sometimes jewelry is too personal to be a gift and a scarf is just the right answer,” she says.

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The success of the formula developed by Ohebsion can be seen in the store’s longevity — it is one of the longest lasting stores on Montana Avenue, a notoriously tough retail strip with some of the highest retail rents in Los Angeles and a high turnover rate among tenants.

 

QUICK FACTS
 

Location: Santa Monica, CA
URL: moondancejewelry.com
Owner and designer: Orly Ohebsion
Founded: 1989
Opened Featured Location: 1989
Last renovated: 1989
Total square footage: 500
Total number of locations: 1
Empolyees: 3 full-time, 2 part-time
ONLINE PRESENCE
Alexa Traffic Rank: 1,767,547
Yelp Rating: 4 Stars
Facebook Likes: 576 Likes

 

 
     
   
   With over 80 percent of her sales coming from regular customers, Ohebsion invests considerable time in maintaining her local contacts.  
     
     
   
  A Mom’s Night Out after kids go back to school. Moondance breaks out the champagne and edible goodies and invites local mothers to come in and relax and recover from the stress of having a house-full of kids during the summer break. It also gives them a chance to pick up something they may need for the fall.   
     
     
   
 

“Standing repertoire”: Moondance’s mainstay brands, such as H.Stern, Marco Biego, Temple St. Clair, and Me & Ro.

 
     

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FIVE COOL THINGS

1. COOL INTERIOR Its clean white walls and chunky wood and marble fittings are the standout feature of Moondance’s design. And while providing a surprisingly modern look, they’ve actually been in place since the store opened in 1989. “We’re trying to grow old gracefully,” says owner Orly Ohebsion. “We want to keep the feel of it.”

2. PARTNERSHIPS WITH LOCAL SCHOOLS The store regularly takes part in fundraising activities with local schools, contributing pieces for raffles and auctions or running a booth at school fairs (and sharing the revenue with the school). Mothers are a core customer group, and the community work is a great way to stay in touch with them.

3. DESTINATION STORE Google “Moondance Jewelry Gallery,” and you’ll be presented with an impressive list of media references including fashion magazines and a surprising number of tourist guide listings such as National Geographic. Ohebsion says the store doesn’t do any active PR, and that its high media profile is driven almost solely by word of mouth.

4. BLOG STYLE The store recently shifted the focus of its marketing to make mailers and website more “blog-like.” “Rather than focusing on products and their prices, we started to highlight the inspirations behind the pieces, celebrities who have been spotted wearing our designers, events taking place in our neighborhood, and welcoming new stores that open on our street. The response has been huge since we are making our marketing more of a conversation than a sales pitch,” says Ohebsion.

5. DID WE MENTION CELEBRITY CLIENTS? The list goes on: Anthony Hopkins, Maria Shriver, Marcia Cross, Tyra Banks, Julia Louise Dreyfus, Amanda Bynes, Blythe Danner, Billy Gibbons, Tony Head, Whitney Port, Jakob Dylan, Calista Flockhart, Peter Gallagher, Marg Helgenberger, Shiva Rose McDermott, Jason Patric, Rhea Pearlman, Kelly Preston, Dennis Quaid and Amber Valletta. Then there are the editors, casting directors …

WHAT THE JUDGES SAY

Jim Ackerman: The Moondance ambiance is very appropriate for the Santa Monica setting. Interior and exterior match well in a laid back style that says SoCal. The shift to the “bloggish” email campaign is nicely executed without leaving out a special offer. Nicely done.

Larry Johnson: I really like the open feel of the store. It is very inviting and seems to make me want to look at the merchandise in every case. Isn’t that what good design is supposed to do?

Maeve Gillies: The fresh, modern product and the way it is presented is very upbeat, approachable and sophisticated. It represents an aspirational lifestyle. The personal approach to social marketing using images of real customers and sales professionals wearing the product adds a genuine feel that makes it even more desirable.

Ellen Hertz: Moondance has found a way to merchandise a relatively small space to offer such a wide array of jewelry — both in terms of the number of designers represented as well as the wide price range — in a manner that looks neat and clean. I think that it’s very cool that a former employee was so inspired by the store that she decided to buy it!

Stephanie Maxey: Quaint, simple and comfortable. The recessed wall displays combined with the play of light from the wall mirrors add to the interest of this boutique. The jewelry is uniquely beautiful and displayed in showcases which look well illuminated. The exterior is nice and straightforward.

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