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Gary Michaels Fine Jewelry

In search of Americaʼs most unique jewelry retail businesses...




Gary Michaels Fine Jewelry (Epicentre Shopping Center), Manalpan, NJ

OWNERS: Gary and Michael Littman; ADDRESS: 55 US Highway 9 South Manalapan, NJ 07726; PHONE: (732) 577-1030

HEREʼS A STORY about starting over. In October of 1998, Gary and Michael Littmanʼs family decided to sell their group of over 130 stores — one of the countryʼs biggest chains, Littman Jewelers, which was purchased by Fred Meyer Jewelers. Loving the jewelry business and seeking a new challenge, the two cousins decided to open their own store. Their aim was to create something thoroughly modern — sleek, high-end, yet with a hip urban edge. Says Michael Littman: “We feel our design, merchandising, staff, and all elements of our store mesh perfectly.”

How did you find your location?

Gary: “We used the services of five or six real estate brokers and we conducted a thorough demographic analysis on every major market in New Jersey. After many site visits and poring over demographic data, we still hadnʼt found the site we wanted. Then, at a Labor Day barbeque, a family friend who used to own retail shopping centers in the New Jersey market turned us onto our present location. The store is located in front of a shopping center, near well-known big box stores such as Target and Kids-R-Us, the areaʼs main shopping mall, as well as a Wegmans Food Market.”


What would you say are The most unique features of the store?

Michael: “Perhaps the most unique feature of our store is the two large curved drop ceilings that outline some of the showcases. Our store also has a beautiful skylight. Many other unique features include our cappuccino/espresso bar that overlooks the jewelry repair area. Also, we have our most intense diamond/bridal merchandise outlined in an area that is delineated by curved millwork.”

Please describe the interior of the store.

Michael: “The store is 6,000 square-feet with 4,700 square-feet of selling space. The wood and steel elements were used in the store design to give it a modern urban ʻlookʼ that was not going be out of style immediately. The wood flooring selected for the showroom floor is Caribbean rosewood with African makore and cherry wood used for the roughly 400 linear feet of showcases, the inside of which are detailed with perforated steel. Inside the display cases we use charbrown leather, novasuede buff and white to help complement certain types of jewelry.” Gary: “Most of the walls are millwork, while our sit-down diamond area has silver leaf wallpaper. The ceilings are high, but vary in height in certain areas of the store, with the skylight being the highest. The bar at the rear of the store is made of stone. From here, you get a view through the glass into the jewelry repair room. Various backlit duratrans and fixtures are scattered symmetrically through the store. The store is lit by over 400 fixtures including tungsten halogens and track lighting. We also have two private sales rooms off the sales floor and office space in the back.”

Who did your design? and how closely did you work with them?

Michael: “Brand+Allen Architects of Houston, Texas designed the complete interior and elements of the exterior of the store. They worked closely with us and my mother who acted as a consultant.” Gary: “Since we were the last building constructed, it wasnʼt too difficult to create an elegant building that also matched the rest of the center. To help differentiate ourselves as a jewelry store, we used a stucco-like material for the exterior façade that was elegant and inviting. Our exterior signage is LED lighting and structured to give a halo effect. This was used to give the store a ʻcool/mysterious/subtleʼ look. We didnʼt want the traditional neon signs that are associated with other stores.”


How much did it cost to adapt the building? Was it worth it?

Gary: “Since we own the building, our investment includes the building itself, as well as the millwork and finishes inside. Cost for both was roughly $2 million. We just finished our first full fiscal year and are one year ahead of plan. We know that this store is a phenomenal investment.”

How do people usually react to the store?

Gary: “The typical reaction we hear is: ʻThis is the most incredible store weʼve been in.ʼ Weʼve had presidents of Fortune 500 companies tell us that they have never been into a jewelry store as beautiful as ours.” Michael: “Customers are in awe of the design but are not intimidated by it since it is inviting rather than stuffy. Many industry leaders have said our store is top-five in the world in terms of design among other elements.”

What do you like most about the store? and least?

Michael: “Besides the cappuccino bar? I love the curved sit-down area. I love sitting down and staring across the center aisle of our store and seeing the light from the skylight hit the center showcases and seeing the Franck Muller duratrans in front of me. Glass vitrines full of South Sea pearls and diamonds are at my back surrounded by silver leaf. It couldnʼt be better. I donʼt have a least favorite. Itʼs all great.” Gary: “My least favorite thing is the lack of storage space. But we knew this going into it. We wanted to maximize the linear case space for the jewelry. Thatʼs where the sales come from. Michael and I even have very small offices.”

Any ghosts?

Gary: “Typically, Iʼm in the store with the rest of the staff and a police officer. A couple of times, I was in the store late at night by myself, which I usually refrain from doing, and heard noises and movements from the ceiling. Either we have a very active HVA/C system or, what Iʼd rather think, our grandfather, who started the family in the jewelry business, is looking down on us, and saying ʻGo for it, boys!ʼ”


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