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Embracing The Past, Moving into The Future

"Really awesome coincidence” helps estate and antique jewelry dealers find success in jewelry retail.

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St. John & Myers Jewelry; Lexington, KY

URL: stjohnandmyers.com; OWNER: Louis and Olivia Scholz; FOUNDED: 2007; REMODELED FEATURED LOCATION: 2013; BUILDOUT COST: $200,000; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 3 part time; AREA: 2,500 total square feet (2,000 square feet of showroom); TAGLINE: “Unique, Timeless, and Affordable”; PLAYLIST: Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett, Sting , Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and some jazz!; ONLINE PRESENCE: 5 Yelp Rating, Facebook Likes: 336, Pinterest Followers: 140


IT MIGHT HAVE JUST BEEN “a really awesome coincidence,” as Olivia Johnson Scholz puts it. But it sure felt like it was meant to be.

In 2007, when she and her husband and co-owner, Louis, were about to enter the world of retail, they met with Rick Arnemann, CEO of the Harmon Group, the Tennessee-based marketing agency with a wealth of experience serving the jewelry industry. While discussing branding and marketing strategies, Arnemann asked Olivia to describe her vision of their future store.

Instantly, Surgener Jewelers — a downtown institution in the Scholzes’ home of Lexington, KY — popped into her head. She’d shopped there as a teen. “Whenever I think of the jewelry store I would like to own, that is the one store that comes to mind,” Olivia said.

But they thought it would never happen; Surgener was a high-end mainstay. The Scholzes opened St. John & Myers Jewelry — named for their mothers’ maiden names — in a strip mall. The location was fine, although it occasionally confused new customers who didn’t realize they were wandering into a shop specializing in antique and estate jewelry. “I think they were expecting more modern designs because we were in a strip mall,” Olivia says.

And then a few years later, her husband told her something she couldn’t believe: The Surgener space was available.
“At first I thought Louis was mistaken,” she recalls. “When he convinced me we truly could get it, I just set my mind on it.”
It was a tough negotiation — at one point, the Scholzes’ attorney advised them to manage their expectations and to start considering other spaces — but ultimately, they did get it.

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“On our blog when I announced where we were going, I put up a picture and some pieces from the 1930s,” Olivia says, after she learned the Surgener building had been built early that decade, one of the Scholzes’ favorite time periods for jewelry design. “I told everyone: Finally, the outside is going to match what’s inside.”

For St. John & Myers’ whole existence, it’s felt a bit like someone was watching over them. Originally, the Scholzes were wholesalers of antique and estate jewelry. In need of new office space in 2007, and unable to find anything that was both large enough and secure enough, they struck upon an interesting possibility: Why not open a store?

“All this jewelry was just sitting in a space when we weren’t selling it, so we thought if we had a retail space, wouldn’t that be cool?” Olivia says. “The idea was just to do it on the side.”

As it turned out, that “side business” became a saving grace. When the economy bottomed out later that year, it was scary for all — but much harder, Olivia believes, for the wholesale side. Over the next few years, wholesalers found their former retailer customers setting up booths next to them at trade shows, selling gold they’d bought from consumers. The market was saturated with competition.
“Your normal retail stores suffered because of sales going down, but they didn’t have their suppliers setting up shop right next to them,” Olivia says. “I said to Louis, my God, if we hadn’t opened a retail store, we would have been toast.”

The recession was no fun, but for a new business like St. John & Myers, it just meant growing slowly; more established retailers had to actually cut back. St. John & Myers operated frugally and made steady if sometimes very gradual gains.

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Though the Scholzes still do some wholesaling, retail is absolutely the focus now. The new location is designed to accommodate that, with its vintage character and thoughtful touches like mirrors made specially to show off jewelry, a custom design area, and a waiting area stocked with Kentucky bourbons.

And Olivia gets to perpetuate the same kind of memories that helped inspire the relocation.

“We get a lot of people who come in and talk about coming in with their parents when it was Surgener’s,” she says. Someday, their kids will remember coming into St. John & Myers.

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Five Cool Things About St. John & Myers Jewelry

1. HISTORY ALL AROUND: The store’s aesthetic resonates thematically with its merchandise. When the Scholzes took over the space — originally a gas station — they pulled out drywall and the drop ceiling to reveal old bricks and support beams. Instead of laying til e or hardwood over it, they polished the concrete floor. As a result, the space teems with character.

2. DOING ONE THING REALLY WELL: Of St. John & Myers’ 16 showcases, 14 are devoted to antique and estate jewelry — pieces made between 1850 and 1960. That’s been Louis Scholz’s passion for years. Occupying a niche like that simplifies things, Olivia Johnson Scholz says. “It drives the customers you actually want. I feel like the people who find us are already prequalified, because they have an affinity for antique and estate jewelry,” she says. “Those who don’t, I don’t miss those sales. They’re better served by someone else.” There are other benefits, too: “I often tell people that if you’re on a budget, your budget goes a lot further in an estate piece than it will in a modern store.”

3. A TOUCH OF MODERN DESIGN: Tucked within the store’s more old-fashioned setting is a 200-square-foot custom design studio, set off with white walls and cases and modern lighting — the basic look is a riff on the Apple Store, meant to signal its more contemporary role. “It’s important to offer that because that’s what people want right now,” Olivia says. The studio highlights St. John & Myers’ “Oui!” custom house brand and features 400 loose gems, many rare, from Louis’s own collection.

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4. LOOK AT THAT: “I still maintain that we’re the only jewelry store in America with these,” Olivia says of the two large, custom-made tilted “walk-by” mirrors in the showroom, angled to give shoppers a realistic look at how a piece of jewelry looks on their whole person. “People aren’t used to [the mirrors], but even those who doubt the validity at first take a look and then go, ‘Oooh, I see what you mean.’”

5. LOCAL LIBATIONS: This is Kentucky, so while the store does have wine and champagne on hand for clients, there are about 10 different pricey bourbons at any given time in the sitting area. “At Christmas time, we had candy-cane bourbon, which was well received,” Olivia says. Louis also worked with a local chocolatier on a secret recipe for the store’s custom bourbon balls. The confections make great gifts for VIP customers.

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After seeing donated jewelry items sell for far less than their retail value at charity auctions, the Scholzes decided to try something new: “People just don’t have time to stop and inspect the pieces,” Olivia says. So now the store has a “Charity Case,” a showcase holding items that are set to be auctioned for charity. Customers can come in and learn about the items ahead of time, and the charity in question gets promoted, too. “Every store has a case that isn’t ideally located. It’s a good place to put that type of product.”

Josh WImmer has been a contributor to INSTORE since 2006. He has coordinated the annual America's Coolest Stores contest for several years. The job mostly involves pestering jewelry store owners to start their contest entries, pestering jewelry store owners to finish their contest entries, and figuring out computer problems over the phone from hundreds of miles away.

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