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Cliff Yankovich

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Chimera Design, Lowell, MI

JULIE AND I OPENED CHIMERA DESIGN a little over six years ago. We are a mom-and-pop on Main Street in Lowell, MI (pop. 4,000). Julie studied under Blaine Lewis at New Approach in Virginia Beach and the Kendall School of Art & Design in Grand Rapids. I am a GIA diamonds graduate and I cut my teeth in the wholesale end of the business working for a trade shop/wholesaler out of Lansing. I am a freelance writer and a founder of the Rounders, an international Internet-based group of men and women who ride their motorcycles all year! (www.yearroundriders.com )

 

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SUNDAY DEC. 21


SNOW. COLD. SNOW. We’re not open Sundays, but Julie had to do some custom jobs. (We tried being open on Sundays before Christmas for the first four years and it was not worthwhile.) Julie was not pleased at the prospect of driving in, so I agreed to drive her in our surefooted RAV4. We pretty much had the road to ourselves, but it took 35 to 40 minutes to make the 10-mile trip. I had to shovel like crazy just to get in the store. Had to keep shoveling at home and then made the return trip to get Julie a little over five hours later.

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MONDAY DEC. 22

I got up extra early to shovel at home. Had the store set up by 9:30, paid some bills using our online Bill Pay and spent 20 minutes shoveling the walk before we opened. Did I mention we had a lot of snow this December?

11 a.m.  One of the things I love about our town is the constant reinforcement to never judge a book by the cover. Guy came in and ended up buying one of Julie’s one-of-a-kind pendants set with drusy, a garnet and two colors of moonstone. From my first impression I would have pegged him for a low-cost, very traditional kind of customer.

12:15 p.m. A guy picked up a pendant Julie made for him using some of the rough stones he and his wife had mined in North Carolina. He was floored with the end result. We underbid the job, so I made him swear not to tell anyone what he paid. (Right!) Sales continued smoothly in spite of the snow and cold. Michigan people are hardy, thank God.

3:30 p.m. Pendant People from Hell. Young couple came in last week on the 17th. Wanted one of Julie’s “Family Bubble” pendants custom made for their mom. They were pushing the time envelope for a Christmas present, but we agreed to make it. After convincing us to do the job, they delayed their decision until the next day. (Danger, Will Robinson! I should have declined the job at that red flag.) We went ahead with the order on the 18th and had it done just the way they told us to do it with four birthstones on the bottom and two on top, all bezel set inside a circular pendant. Hubby picked it up this morning and everything was hunky dory. Wife comes back and explains that “we are both designers” and they decided they wanted the birth stones laid out differently … for Christmas! She was shocked when we explained that could not happen and was further shocked when we said there would be a fee to disassemble the pendant and rebuild it. Finally got the points across to her, or so we thought.

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4:15 p.m. Guy came in and wanted an appraisal. Since he recently bought one of Julie’s pieces and wanted to buy a $150 gift certificate I said, “Yes sir, you can pick it up tomorrow.” Stayed late to get the appraisal done and then drove across town to pick up five Christmas jobs from Jere Keyes who does CAD-CAM and casting work with us.

9:05 p.m. Home just in time to do more shoveling.

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TUESDAY DEC. 23

In early to empty buckets on third floor from roof leaking on account of the mountains of snow.

9:45 a.m. Round 3 with The Pendant People from Hell. The “older sister” called wondering, “Like, is there any way, like, we would, like, be able to get it redone, like, by Christmas?” She went on and, like, on. My solution — a full refund of their purchase price with a big smile and a “Merry Christmas.” (We learned that some customers need to be fired from the pages of this very magazine.)

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11 a.m. I got a last-minute call for some ideal make diamond earrings from a customer in Texas. Thank God for overnight — got two pairs to look at, decided on the smaller of the two — trotted the three blocks to the post office to overnight them.

Back story: Lost 5 pounds sweating the last transaction with this same guy. Sent him a 1.01 VS1 E color, ideal cut before Christmas in 2004 and the post office “lost” it for several days. He was “slightly” upset with me because his Christmas Eve proposal plans were looking like they would be canceled. My supplier mentioned that if he was close to me and if he had a shotgun, then Julie might collect on my life insurance. I didn’t mention any of this to Julie because she is tense enough that time of year. Turned out the stone was sitting in the post office in Texas for five days because he told them to hold it when the package came in.

2:30 p.m. Customer picked up his custom diamond and (lab-created) sapphire ring. It was a winner. Steady sales right up to closing at 7.

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WEDNESDAY DEC. 24

More snow and cold. Left early to make a deposit on the way in and it took an extra half hour because of the ice. Just barely had the store set up and the walk shoveled in time to open at 10 a.m.

I love Christmas Eve. The women who come in are looking for a last-minute “something” for someone they forgot they had to buy for and the men qualify themselves, “What do you have in earrings for $250?” Set up three pairs on the counter and they pick one.

It was a weird day. People were coming in groups of two to five at a time. I would be buried for 20 to 30 minutes and then the store would be empty for a few minutes before the next group. (C’mon folks, can you please make this more convenient for me?)

Pickups and fresh sales followed each other all day.

4 p.m. Just when I was going out to drag in our sign, one of the owners of the butcher shop across the street came in. I laid out several selections of Julie’s work on the counter. I answered the phone and he spotted a gorgeous Tahitian blister pearl pendant she made with a briolette cut amethyst dangling in front of it. Even though it was way more expensive than the other pieces he was considering, he decided that was The One Kristina had to have. We had a couple of shadow boxes in the back, so we made it a deluxe wrapping job and he left a happy man a half hour later.

6 p.m. Took me a good hour and a half to get the sales entered and to make some sense of my desk before I left.

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THURSDAY DEC. 25

Eat, drink, and be merry. I slept until 10:30. Julie came in to make sure I was still breathing — I never sleep this late.

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FRIDAY DEC. 26

Up at 5:15 to be at the train station at 7 a.m. for a post-Christmas trip to Chicago. Overjoyed that we took the train. The expressway is ice; we saw cars crawling or completely stopped where sections were closed. For us, taking the train is cheaper and less hassle than driving and paying to park.

11:30 a.m. We start walking Michigan Avenue. Hundreds of shoppers belie the economic slump. Walked by the Soupbox on 50 E Chicago and had a good feeling. Went in — Delicious. If you like to choose from 12 kinds of homemade soup in a bread bowl, this place is for you. Plus, you can try before you buy (www.soupbox.com ). Provided strength to continue looking, walking and shopping all afternoon.

Dinner at La Fronterra. Wow! People lined up 30 minutes prior to opening. We got seats at the bar with Daina, our friend who lives just outside the city. Rick Bayless serves up unbelievable food at his restaurants — just get there early or be patient.

Julie and Daina caught the show Wicked at the Oriental Theatre and hit Pops — a champagne bar with more than 100 varieties of champagne and sparkling wine. I hoofed it back to the hotel in search of more sleep. (www.popsforchampagne.com )

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SATURDAY DEC. 27


The day dawned warm, windy and wet. Our first order of business was to check out Navy Pier. What a great place for The?INSTORE Show, we thought. Get tired of shopping? Hop on the Ferris wheel or take a spin on one of the boats. Great choice, INSTORE. We walked the length of it, even though it was raining.

Went to the Museum of Science and Industry along with half the school kids in Chicago. Would love to see it again when it wasn’t teeming with people.

Before we explored more, we had to have some hot dogs. Took a cab to Al’s Beef at the corner of Ontario and Wells. Al has been making scrumptious dogs and beef sandwiches there since 1938. (www.alsbeef.com )

Millennium Park Rocks! The Cloud Gate sculpture is fantastic. The 110-ton elliptical creation is made of high-polished stainless steel that reflects the city above and underneath creates funhouse reflections that had everyone smiling and laughing. The BP Bridge, Crown Fountain, and the outdoor concert venue are some of the best works of public art and design I have ever seen. (www.millenniumpark.org )

We needed seafood and the concierge recommended the Devon Seafood Grill. Julie chose the Chilean sea bass with a Caesar salad and I went with trout washed down with two “X-Rated BF” martinis. Perfecto. (www.devonseafood.com )

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SUNDAY DEC. 28

You can get right with the Lord or just dig in to the killer buffet and enjoy top-notch gospel music at the House of Blues Gospel Brunch. We caught the 10 a.m. show and there is another one at noon. Mimosas, family-style seating, custom-made waffles, prime rib, eggs, bacon, salads and everything you could possibly want to eat explain why the House is packed out every Sunday. Buy your tickets in advance. (www.hob.com

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