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Good Things in Small Spaces

Their tiny footprint stores are doing a sizeable business.




Gallery Of Jewels, San Francisco, CA

URL:; OWNER: Bill Hoover and Dona Taylor; FOUNDED: 1990; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1996; EMPLOYEES: 2 Full-Time, 2 Part-Time; AREA: 500 square feet; BRANDS: Rebecca Overmann, Anne Sportun, Sethi Couture, Megan Thorne, Anna Sheffield, Adel Chefridi, Dahlia Kanner, Amal, Alberian & Aulde, Philippa Roberts

WITH STORES IN THREE desirable San Francisco locations, Bill Hoover and Dona Taylor have no problem thinking big. But the real secret to their success may be in thinking small.

Gallery of Jewels’ Pacific Heights location on Fillmore Street is barely 500 square feet — a third the size of the average American jewelry store. The Gallery of Jewels in the Noe Valley neighborhood is even smaller, at just 250 square feet, while the company’s Union Square store is 750 square feet. Yet these three small-footprint stores feature the works of 130 handpicked artists, and each piece packs either a strong subtle appeal or a big wow factor.

In naming the shop, Hoover says he and Taylor wanted to evoke not just the literal definition of jewels as gemstones, but the word’s figurative meaning, too, “that this is a fantastic find.” Nearly every week, store managers meet with artists who’d like to showcase their work at Gallery of Jewels. With the limited space, it’s hard to take on many newcomers. “That’s the hardest part, saying ‘We can’t bring you in,’” Hoover notes. Yet a desire to keep things fresh and surprising means Gallery of Jewels remains ever on the lookout for new design talent, from the Bay Area and far beyond.

Hoover and Taylor are marking a quarter-century in San Francisco, and they’ve been in business almost as long. The couple arrived in San Francisco in January 1989 with their newborn son. Hoover dreamed of a career in television advertising and Taylor had designs on creating fashion jewelry. But when the Bay Area economy went into freefall after the Loma Prieta earthquake that October, the couple decided to focus on Taylor’s passion.


Starting with a 4-by-8 piece of plywood as a laundry room workbench, she began creating jewelry. After a stint selling outside the neighborhood grocery store, where police would often boot them out for lacking a permit, they opened their first store in Noe Valley in 1990 and added the Pacific Heights and Union Square locations later.

Every square foot of the Pacific Heights store works hard. The door onto Fillmore Street is open as often as possible, beckoning to the steady foot traffic on a block filled with other stores and restaurants. Inside, a recent renovation has pulled the space together better than ever. Two mirrors — both from India — maximize the small space: a large one placed between two showcases gives depth to the compact space, and a stunning oval-framed one draws the eye to the cash wrap and customer service area.

The showcases are funky and eclectic; several feature pressed ceiling tin salvaged from a reclamation warehouse in nearby Berkeley. Another display unit — one that features Taylor’s work — began as a door in Mexico, and its rough-hewn wood flecked with a few hints of past paint jobs perfectly complements the beautiful embossed gold wallpaper behind it. “It’s called ‘Dona magic,’” Hoover says of his wife’s talent in finding and rehabilitating unique architectural elements for the stores.

Gallery of Jewels’ mission has remained the same since the start: “Build a strong artistic community, support those artists to the fullest, and bring quality jewelry to our clientele,” Hoover says. “Too many stores want to be everything to everybody, and as a result, they lose their identity.” So at a time when many shops sell a wide range of handcrafted items, Gallery of Jewels remains firmly focused on representing the work of jewelry artisans who design their own work. “That’s our position, that’s what differentiates us from everybody else,” Hoover adds.


Hoover and Taylor also understand that theirs is an urban business in one of the world’s great destinations. Their smart location choices — near tourism-focused Union Square and two hip, close-in shopping districts — give locals, savvy visitors and the most casual tourists easy access to at least one Gallery of Jewels. “We have San Francisco pretty well covered,” Hoover says. “We often hear, ‘We’d love to have you in our shopping mall,’ but that’s not who we are.”

Instead, Gallery of Jewels encourages clients to shop among the three stores, especially since each store has its own personality and the mix of artists is different at each one. It’s the right attitude for a city on the edge of the continent, a city still known for its frontier spirit. In everything Gallery of Jewels does, Hoover adds, “We encourage the fashion adventure.”


Five Cool Things About Gallery Of Jewels

1. THE RIGHT LIGHT: The front of Gallery of Jewels’ Fillmore location is blessed with lots of natural light. Halogen track lighting helps jewelry toward the back of the store pop, while a large chandelier over the cash wrap offers a strong visual statement of the store’s artful-but-not-ostentatious personality.

2. SMART PRICING: In a city of great wealth, Gallery of Jewels has positioned itself for a mid-market clientele, with most pieces in the $50 to $10,000 range — occasionally higher for custom-designed work. The business strives to help designers find buyers for their full range of work, through a series of annual Bridal Event trunk shows, for example, and via a well-designed website showcasing “nature-inspired bridal jewelry” (a great hook in beautiful Northern California) and “New Products We Love.”

3. FINNER SANCTUM: A small room in the back of the Fillmore Street location does double duty: It’s a relaxed spot for engaged couples to look at rings or other private consultations, and it’s where store manager Erica Scott meets with designers who would like to join Gallery of Jewels’ roster of artists.

4. GO, TEAM: Gallery of Jewels has a total of 10 full-time and 10 part-time employees at its three locations, and the company has always prided itself on teamwork. “Most good ideas come through brainstorming,” Bill Hoover says. “Bouncing ideas off each other is not only fun but productive.”

5. GIVE BACK: Gallery of Jewels offers gift certificates to help community groups raise money while raising awareness of the business. In a typical year, the business donates two $100 gift certificates to about 75 schools and community groups. “It’s a wonderful way to develop symbiotic relationships with lots of warm and fuzzy feelings,” Hoover says.

Try This: Passport Stamps

To encourage people to visit all three locations over a three-week period coinciding with their annual “Endless Love” Bridal Event, Gallery of Jewels created a “Passport to Love” featuring the work of eight artists at each location, with space for note-taking about the work of each. Staff used stamps of various diamond shapes to document visits, and more than 300 people qualified for a drawing for $500 toward an order for work by the featured designers.

Julie Fanselow is a writer, editor, coach, and dot-connector. She was the founding editor of SmartWork Media's magazine for eyecare professionals, INVISION.



When There’s No Succession Plan, Call Wilkerson

Bob Wesley, owner of Robert C. Wesley Jewelers in Scottsdale, Ariz., was a third-generation jeweler. When it was time to enjoy life on the other side of the counter, he weighed his options. His lease was nearing renewal time and with no succession plan, he decided it was time to call Wilkerson. There was plenty of inventory to sell and at first, says Wesley, he thought he might try to manage a sale himself. But he’s glad he didn’t. “There’s no way I could have done this as well as Wilkerson,” he says. Wilkerson took responsibility for the entire event, with every detail — from advertising to accounting — done, dusted and managed by the Wilkerson team. “It’s the complete package,” he says of the Wilkerson method of helping jewelers to easily go on to the next phase of their lives. “There’s no way any retailer can duplicate what they’ve done.”

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