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Eileen McClelland

Epiphany Leads to Treasure Hunt

Jeweler goes out of business by burying store’s inventory in Michigan dirt.

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WHEN JOHNNY PERRI was 18, he started working in his father’s full-service, upscale jewelry business, J&M Jewelers in Washington Township, MI.

He didn’t stop to consider whether it suited him until he was 42, nine years after his father had died.

“I kind of realized I didn’t like it,” Perri says. “During the COVID-19 lockdown it hit me; I was never happy doing this. It was an epiphany. My whole perspective on life changed.”

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Perri says he’s grateful for the customers who supported their business over the years and he’s happy to have known them.

But it was time for something new and the lockdown made him realize it.

“I just had enough,” he says. “There’s so much headache to any business in general and you take it home with you. Everyone else gets to go home and forget about it. Business owners have it on our minds all night long. That’s just the way it is.”

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At first, he says, in March, he was going stir crazy at home with nothing but time on his hands. He found himself literally packing back and forth.

Then inspiration struck in the form of initial news reports about legendary treasure hunter Forrest Fenn, whose $1 million gold treasure chest was discovered in Wyoming after a decade-long search. “One day I got up and came across an article while scrolling the news on my phone,” Perri recalls. “The article was about an anonymous person claiming to have finally deciphered the infamous riddle and discovered the Forrest Fenn treasure.”

“That’s what changed me,” he says. “How cool is that? I thought. I’ve always dreamed of searching for that myself but never had the time. What Mr. Forrest Fenn really wanted is what I found to be most unmistakably true. It was getting off the couch and out of the house and adventuring outdoors.”

Up until then, when he thought about closing shop for good, he had considered a traditional going out of business sale.

Instead, he got out of the house and started burying the store’s jewelry inventory, along with antiques, rare coins, silver and gold, to prepare for selling tickets for a series of treasure hunts.

“I began traveling up and down pure Michigan with my fiancé, Amy,” he says. “We went through woods, rivers, streams, mountains and waterfalls to find the best hiding spots across the state.”

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The positive energy brought the couple closer together. Johnny and Amy got married on May 2. “We didn’t know what was going to happen next,” he says. “We wanted to make it right with God and publicly declare our love for one another.”

Johnny Perri with silver bars

Johnny Perri with silver bars, the prize yet to be discovered in his first Michigan treasure hunt.

He launched a website and began marketing the treasure-hunting events, selling $50 tickets to interested treasure hunters. Finders can keep the treasure or sell it back to Perri.

Thousands have bought tickets for the treasure hunts, which began on Aug. 1 in Oakland County, and will continue through October all over the state. Each treasure hunt is capped at about 500 people and sells out in a day or two after it’s announced.

The first treasure cache, a collection of silver bars and collectors’ coins worth nearly $6,000, was found by a resident of Warren, MI, in Sylvan Glen Lake Park in Troy, MI, on Aug. 8, one week after the clue was released.

During the week, treasure hunters posted nature and adventure photos to the Facebook page, Johnny’s Treasure Quest, as well as warnings about poison ivy and advice to wear comfortable old clothes because “You’ll get dirty. Very dirty.” Participants seemed to be having fun, spending time with friends and family members outdoors.

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“I’ve been planning this since April and I had the time of my life doing it,” Perri says. “I want it to be family fun, for everyone to have a good time and bond like my wife and I did while planning it.”

He’s hoping to use the proceeds from the ticket sales to buy a few acres in the Upper Peninsula and settle down. But it’s not really about making a big profit.

“It’s more about giving people hope and adventure and something to look forward to, more so than anything else,” Perri says.

He also realizes how much he’s enjoyed the past few months and would like to make hosting treasure hunts a business or an avocation in the future.

“I’m hoping I can continue this treasure adventure,” he says. “I’d like to expand it, possibly. I would just recycle what people resell me and keep it going. The adventure is what they are really after.”

The store is still open for now for customers to pick up repairs. “With ticket sales, we can pay our rent and keep going despite the operation costs. It’s just day by day, enjoying our lives. It’s really cool. The treasure lies in the adventure.”

For more information, visit: www.johnnystreasurequest.com

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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