JEWELERS ACROSS THE country are now operating under widely different rules of retail engagement, as at least two dozen state governments, mostly in the South, Midwest and mountain West, moved to relax restrictions after a national stay at home order expired last week.
Jewelers who have reopened or who never were required to close report various levels of business success. And some store owners have found ways to set up one-on-one appointments throughout the shutdown, depending on how stringent state laws have been.
Based on a May 1 INSTORE Brain Squad survey, 79 percent of jewelers were officially still closed or preparing to open on May 4; while 21 percent had either been open all along, such as in Arkansas, or had reopened since about April 21, as states eased COVID-19 restrictions.
We received 155 responses to the questions, “Are your doors open for business yet? If you are open for business, what’s been your experience so far? If you’re not yet open, what are you doing to prepare to reopen? Tim Sherrer of Lou’s Jewelry in Mobile, AL, reported that he had reopened at 10 a.m. Friday to steady traffic as well as sales. “All customers have had positive energy and NEED retail therapy,” he says.
Store owners whose stores remain closed, whether by choice or necessity, are cleaning, installing plexiglass barriers, labeling the floor for social distancing and trying to procure hand sanitizer, masks and other personal protection equipment, while doing the math regarding how many people will be permitted in their stores at one time. Others are hoping to sell Mother’s Day gifts remotely. “Our brick and mortar store is still closed, but our online store is experiencing brisk sales,” says Patty Gallun Hansen of Dorothy Gallun Fine Jewelry in Cedarburg, WI.
Many are trying to untangle governmental red tape or confusing rules on their road to reopening.
Dianna Rae High closed her jewelry store on March 21, when Louisiana Gov. John Bell Edwards announced the stay at home order, which he has since extended to mid-May. But she reopened Dianna Rae Jewelry in Lafayette, LA, on April 21, when she and other business owners in Louisiana learned they’d likely fallen into a gray area when it came to whether or not they had been required to close at all.
Lafayette Mayor Josh Guillory, who had contacted the attorney general to more clearly define Louisiana’s Stay at Home order, learned that durable goods stores were NOT technically ordered to close in most of the state’s parishes, but had fallen through a crack between the definition of essential and forbidden. So, to make the rules clearer Guillory issued the Safe Shop Program that allowed jewelry stores, clothing stores and furniture stores in Lafayette to open within restrictions: All staff must wear masks, limit customers in the store to 25 percent of capacity, keep 6 feet between customers.
That news prompted High to reopen the store following those occupancy rules, with limited hours, from noon to 4 p.m., and with staff wearing masks. “We encourage appointments, curbside pickup and free shipping,” she says. “Once the Stay at Home Order expires, we’ll go back to our normal store hours. Of course, sales are way down, but at least it’s better than being closed with $0 sales. People are calling ahead, setting appointments, coming in for specific things, and very appreciative that we’re open. I am surprised that few clients are wearing masks, but our staff is wearing masks. We have hand sanitizer on the front counter and wipe everything down with Clorox wipes often. It feels good to know that love is stronger than COVID-19. People are still getting engaged, getting married, celebrating anniversaries and buying jewelry to celebrate these special moments.”
Rex Solomon, as owner of Houston Jewelry in Houston, had an exemption to operate his store as “essential,” during the Texas shutdown because it is classified as a “precious metal store,” or a non-banking public institution; a classification available to jewelers who buy more than $50,000 annually in precious metals from the public. Still, he didn’t rush to do so, in part because his primary refiner was closed. He opened only sporadically on Saturdays to allow customers to pick up repairs, to handle an emergency repair (cut a ring off a customer’s finger) and to buy some gold. But he was ready to fully reopen on May 1, as the state of Texas lifted more restrictions on retail.
“I have had lots and lots of calls from people wanting to sell,” he says. “If this is a Depression, which clearly it matches the definition of one, millions of people need to convert valuable items into money. But one thing the jewelry industry needs to keep in mind is do not get greedy. This person who is selling today should be looked at as the customer of the future and if you rip them off now, they will never buy from you when they have money again.”
Texas jeweler Marc Majors of Sam L. Majors in Midland, has not had to close, either, but he describes business as slow sledding, punctuated with repair drop-offs. “We have had some nice sales though for people that needed specific things,” he says. “I just think as people get more used to this temporary new world the more they’ll start returning to somewhat of a normal life.”
Before Susan Eisen reopened Susan Eisen Fine Jewelry on Friday in El Paso, TX, she made appointments with half a dozen customers who were ready to pick up custom orders or repairs. She wanted to have some business she could count on, but she didn’t anticipate a huge crowd in her small store. “We’re taking it a day at a time,” says Eisen, who expects to be wearing and requiring everyone to wear a mask and gloves. Despite not receiving any government money yet, she paid her staff, transferred her calls to her cell phone, then used her free time to become certified in pearls and learn to use the Counter Sketch she’d bought a year ago. “As hard as it was, I enjoyed every moment of peace and doing what I wanted to do. Now it’s back to working hard.”
When Amber Gustafson of Amber’s Jewelry in Katy, TX, opened her doors last week, she immediately sold $4,000 worth of jewelry she’d bought over the counter to a single customer. “She liked two rings and a beautiful necklace, and she didn’t blink. She’s a big customer of mine. All these people have money that they can’t travel with right now. I think we’re going to be busy. I really do. I’m feeling very blessed right now.” Already, though, she’s encountered resistance from customers about wearing masks. “A couple said, `We don’t need a mask. We’re not sick. Our hands are clean.” I’m taking the staff’s temperature and I would like to have a maximum of three customers in the store at a time.”
Bill Jones of Sissy’s Log Cabin in Pine Bluff, AR, never had to close under Arkansas state law. “We have experienced much better success than we would have being closed, although we’re still way down over last April,” says Jones. Also in Arkansas, Rachel Hardester of Lee Ann’s Fine Jewelry in Russellville, says everything is ALMOST back to normal. “A few customers are wearing masks, but that is about all that has changed,” she says. “We wash our hands after every customer and clean everything the customers have touched.”
Steve Floyd of Floyd & Green in Aiken, SC, reopened on April 21 after being closed by the state for 10 days. Cautious customers (about 80 percent of them wearing masks) trickled in for the first four or five days. “After that the number of customers has picked up with fewer and fewer masks,” Floyd says. “Business seems to be moving back to some sense of normal. Mother’s Day will be our benchmark.”
Babs Noelle of Alara Jewelry in Bozeman, MT, who opened last week under phase one of Montana’s reopening, had a steady stream of customers. She expects some resistance but will insist customers wear masks along with staff. “I will shut down for two weeks if any staff member becomes ill, so I’m doing everything I can think of to prevent that,” she says. “We came out of this time a more cohesive team, and our esprit de corps is positive and excited.”
Gene, John and Krista Poole, the team at Hudson-Poole Jewelers in Tuscaloosa, AL, said they were preparing to reopen on Monday, after having addressed a wide variety of concerns. They deep-cleaned and sanitized the store and tested all employees for COVID-19. No one tested positive. They’ve set up both curbside pickup and delivery and a table and chair outside the front door, in case a customer would prefer not to cross the threshold. The staff has been busy making cloth masks. Masks are optional for customers, but required for staff. They plan to check the temperature of all associates and customers.
Janne Etz of Contemporary Concepts in Cocoa, FL, planned to open at 25 percent capacity on May 4, as permitted by Florida law. For her, that means allowing no more than four people at a time inside the small space, which she will make clear with a sign on her door. “I will require they take a squirt of hand sanitizer as they come in, before they start touching things. I will also have to clean up my mess! I’ve been sorting through beads and shooting photography, and every flat surface in my store is piled with “stuff”!
Doors Not Open Yet
- We are gradually increasing our ad spend. We never let off the pedal online but now we are also moving back to radio. Also putting a tent out for curbside and researching decals for the floor to ensure social distancing. — Sean Dunn, J.R. Dunn Jewelers, Lighthouse Point, FL
- “Wisconsin is closed until May 26, but curbside service is allowed for some businesses. We are operating under the status of “shop” rather than “store”. We are only responding to requests for help, and not doing advertising yet.” — Jo Goralski, the Jewelry Mechanic, Oconomowoc, WI.
- We are closed and I never thought I would say this but I MISS WORKING 🙂 I have finished all of my repairs!!!. ( first time in 19 years ) So I have been making stock up. I am using all of the loose stones I bought in Tucson from the past 10 years. Stuff is looking good. — Tommy Thobe, the Village Gem, Perry Hall, MD
- Teri Vogan of Vogan Gold & Silver Works in Colorado Springs, CO, has found running a curbside operation four hours a day for the past two weeks has been a positive experience. “As far as opening the doors, we are still working that system out. Due to the size of our shop and the rules our governor imposed, we can only allow two customers in at a time.”
- “We are placing our trust in scientific professionals. Politicians can go drink their bleach. We’ll open with safety as the only consideration. You can always replace money, but you can’t replace your health.” — Steven Wardle, Forest Beach Design, Chatham, MA
By Appointment Only
- “We have been open on a limited basis for most of this crisis. We work on production work and orders we took before shutdown. We only recently started to put inventory in our showcases. We still see three to 10 customers per day and are able to set up a few appointments for some decent size sales mainly for engagement rings.” — Chad Elliott Coogan, Gems of La Costa, Carlsbad, CA
- “We are not fully open. Our state is closed through May. I have been here alone doing curb service and appointments for repairs, watch batteries and payments. Yesterday our city manager came in for an appointment and bought something for Mother’s Day.” — Gene Arthur, Arthur’s Jewelry, Reidsville, NC
- Although our closed sign is still up, the jewelry is locked up in the safe and all of our employees are at home receiving full pay and benefits, we have been doing a surprisingly decent amount of business. Not nearly as much as last year but almost enough to cover fixed expenses and cover for the fact that we still have not been approved for a PPP loan. — David Phelps, John David Jewelers, Durham, NC
- “I am working by appointment with just a few clients per day. The phone rarely rings, all demand is extremely low. I am planning a slow opening, maybe one staff member out of five rehired. I am hoping that gold buying will increase dramatically. I am now stocked for Christmas if we get to be open for one.” — Mark Goodman, Goodman Jewelers of Abingdon, Abingdon, VA
- I’ve decided to not reopen. I am going to do “by appointment only”. Due to changes in the area my store is in (main street in a college town) I think this will be better going forward. — Susan Kauffman, Black Dog Jewelers, Lewisburg, PA
- “Not supposed to be open, but I’m at the point where I decided I’m an essential business and an essential person. Business is very quiet, but I’m here for anyone that comes in! We practice safe distancing and wear masks.” — Laurie Cusher, Hyde Park Jeweler, Hyde Park, NY
- “Planning for May 18 in Massachusetts. Right now, we are concentrating on doing any remote sales that we can get. We have done a fair share of shipping, home delivery and credit card over the phone transactions. Since we won’t be open for the weeks leading into Mother’s Day we will hope to ramp up more of those sales next week.” — Mark Snyder, Snyder Jewelers, Weymouth, MA
- “We decided to open for limited hours, by appointment, because of the numbers of calls from people concerning their repairs. Traffic is very light, but we are making some nice sales. We are fortunate to be in ‘The Love Business’ because no matter what life brings, people fall in love or want to reaffirm and demonstrate their feelings for loved ones.” — Jon Walp, Long Jewelers, Virginia Beach, VA.