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Eastern Shore Jewelry Store Taps Into Natural Assets

Store owner embraces beach days, spectacular moon rises and new ideas.




Jewelry Meredith

Meredith Lusk won an America’s Coolest Stores Contest award this year, something she cherishes all the more after years spent wondering if her business, Moonrise Jewelry of Cape Charles, VA, would survive a few tough years followed by an unplanned move and a complete building renovation. Taking a chance on a novel material – fish leather – as a component of her jewelry played a big part in her business transformation. The third time fish leather purveyor Stanley Major called offering to sell her fish leather, she said, “Yes,” out of a feeling of desperation, and managed to create a unique niche for her business.

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Meredith Lusk

How important is curb appeal to your business?

It’s everything. I think it’s especially important in a small town that is a pedestrian friendly town. People are walking by and this is a town where golf carts are street legal. Curb appeal is really the best attraction for people who are here.

You studied anthropology and Spanish in college in New Orleans. How did that experience influence your life or business?

I went to Tulane, I love it down there. It’s such a cool place and different from where I am. I have these faux flickering lanterns with LED bulbs that remind me of the gas lanterns in New Orleans. We’re a pedestrian town so people stroll around even in the evening and that flickering catches your eye.

Spanish was something I had already been studying in high school and I was working as a translator with a migrant Head Start program on the shore. We have a migrant population that used to be more transitory in this agricultural area. Now it’s year-round. I was working with children of farm workers. And anthropology, I was just fascinated by. Obviously those two things don’t have anything directly to do with jewelry. I got into this because it was a hobby. I never set out to start a jewelry business. I was making jewelry as a hobby in my early 20s. I was working as a reporter and teaching Spanish to adult learners at the community college. Jewelry was just a hobby. I was self-taught and making things on my kitchen table. People started asking to buy things. I signed up for a craft fair and it was successful from the start. I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bent. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family.


But I do think my studies and my time in New Orleans and a semester abroad in Chile, that those experiences and influences have shaped my design aesthetic when it comes to jewelry and the store design, honestly. There is a connection.

When Stanley Major called you a THIRD time to see if you needed any fish leather, why did you change your mind and say yes? And how did he get your number to begin with?

In the beginning years of my business, 2005, 2006, 2007, I was really focused on sourcing fair trade semi-precious stones, looking for suppliers that were more progressive at a time when that wasn’t something that was talked about as widely. Somehow online I got listed as an eco-friendly business. Stanley is in Toronto and when he called, I said, “WHAT? And I turned him down twice. I didn’t set out to be a fish leather jewelry designer. I had never heard of it either. It kind of came looking for me. Sometimes an idea will cross your path and a seed is planted. Sometimes when you’re kind of in a different place those seeds start to blossom. That’s what happened to me. I was desperate to save my business. I thought, how am I going to keep this going? I needed to find something unique, or I was going to have to get a day job. That’s the most interesting part of the whole thing. I didn’t go looking for fish leather. It came and knocked on my door. When life hands you lemons, you might have to make lemonade, and you may have to get pretty creative.

This IS a lemons to lemonade story. I wouldn’t have this store if something that I thought was really horrible hadn’t happened four years ago.

I was renting a space from gallery owner for three and a half years. I had invested a lot in making this space a beautiful store and I thought we had a good relationship. And on New Year’s Eve 2019 I got a certified letter from him saying he was not going to renew my lease because he was going to expand his gallery. I had a month to get out. I was so upset. This is a small town. There aren’t that many buildings, especially ones that are in a good enough space to be a storefront. This is my livelihood. This is how I support my daughter and myself. I called my mentor and he said, `Meredith, I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but this is going to be the best kick in the nuts you ever got. It will give you an opportunity to have your own space, to create a space you can sell fine jewelry.’

I happened to remember that one of my clients who owned a business was going to retire and close her consultant firm and wanted to renovate it for retail. We started the project late January 2020, and it involved a lot of demo. It was in horrible shape. Then COVID hit and everything went to hell in a handbasket. What I thought would be a four-month project turned into two years of renovation. I found a temporary location on a side street and in retrospect it worked out fine and allowed me to put all the energy into creating this store we have today.

I probably would’ve stayed right where I was and even expanded my business, but having to move was the best thing that ever happened. The pain of a building renovation was not any fun, but in the end having extra time was better because it allowed us to be better, to tap into some grant funds and PPP funds.

Where did the name moonrise come from?

We have some spectacular moonrises on the eastern shore. I’ve always loved watching that, but when I started this business I really wanted to create an enterprise that would support me and other women in our rural community and beyond. It really is a team effort. The moon was symbolic of rising feminine energy and power and the increased participation of women in the business world.

What do you look for when you’re hiring?

I’m looking for someone I would enjoy working with and spending a lot of time around. Someone who has a positive and upbeat attitude about them. They would fit in best with the rest of the team with those qualities. I do find that personality traits are important to keeping team culture and morale high.

What’s your idea of a perfect day off, and how do you achieve a comfortable work/life balance, if you do?

Definitely spending time at the beach. I have a teenage daughter who is 15 who loves to surf. A day off at the beach watching my daughter surf would be the perfect day off. I do believe I have a comfortable work/life balance. It’s always a work in progress but yes I have prioritized that more in recent years and I’m happy that I have. Having a teenage daughter forces you to because you realize this is kind of fleeting, this time of life.

Now that your hobby became your career, do you have any new hobbies?

I’m taking up running. Being a full-time single mom business owner I feel like I don’t have much time for hobbies. But it’s definitely on my list. I would like to try pottery. The functional nature of it really appeals to me. Things you need to use appeals to me. But I feel like my temptation might be to turn anything I do into a business.




When the Kids Have Their Own Careers, Wilkerson Can Help You to Retire

Alex and Gladys Rysman are the third generation to run Romm Jewelers in Brockton, Mass. And after many decades of service to the industry and their community, it was time to close the store and take advantage of some downtime. With three grown children who each had their own careers outside of the industry, they decided to call Wilkerson. Then, the Rysmans did what every jeweler should do: They called other retailers and asked about their own Wilkerson experience. “They all told us what a great experience it was and that’s what made us go with Wilkerson.” says Gladys Rysman. The results? Alex Rysman says he was impressed. “We exceeded whatever I expected to do by a large margin.”

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