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How a Well-Known Key West Jeweler Is Coping After Hurricane Irma

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It’s been the most harrowing time of her life.

In INSTORE’s October My Life page, Barb Grob, owner of Key West Local Luxe, shared with readers how much she enjoyed her lifestyle and business in the Keys: “We bike to the beach café for a swim and fish sandwich for lunch. I’m super-grateful for my quirky life.”

I know it made me want to pack up and move there! I’m kind of quirky, and I love the beach.

This week when I spoke to Barb, she mentioned just how odd the timing of that page was since when our October issue had entered the production phase, she was evacuating from her Key West home and business, running for her life from a monster of a hurricane and worried her fun and profitable lifestyle was a thing of the past.

While Hurricane Irma took aim at the Keys on Sept. 6, she and the love of her life, Tim Lorober, hit the road with a carload of inventory, their little dog GG (Girl Genius), a tentative plan to open a pop-up shop in Asheville, NC, but little else — including warm socks.INSTORE Barb1

Barb Grob and her dog, G.G. Credit: Sheelman Photography.

When they got to Asheville, they rented a tiny, cozy house, where they hoped to remain till the end of the year.

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On Sept. 11 on Facebook, she posted “It’s FREEZING here! Had to buy socks, sweaters, pants, coats. All of it. Weird.”

Sept. 13, via email: “We evacuated. Packed up all those thousands of tiny little doodads, that are my inventory, and left for Asheville, NC. I hear my home and business are OK, but there’s no tourism, and let’s face it, the last thing on the locals’ minds is jewelry.
So looks like we’re going to look for a storefront and may ride out the holidays, here. Trying to keep a positive attitude.”

Sept. 14: “I’m not going to lie – this is a bummer! But, not nearly as bad as it would’ve been if we’d stayed. We’re trying to keep a good sense of humor, but let’s face it. I was feeling quite flush.”

Business had nearly tripled since USA Today had mentioned Key West Local Luxe as No. 3 on a Top 10 list for best shopping experiences in the Keys, and she and Tim had been able to leverage that accolade for internet marketing.

Between that positive development and some wholesale requests, Barb had felt comfortable enough to buy a house at the beginning of the slow season, as she looked forward to a rush of business during Christmas and Fantasy Fest.

“Well, now, with loads of unforeseen expenses and a mass of inventory, we’ve got to get back to selling PDQ,” she noted. “But, the good news is we’re alive and healthy, I’ve found some sweaters and socks and I am a seasoned professional, who’s about as scrappy as they come. I will make this into a boon! It’s just taking a second to figure it out. We are grateful. We’ll be fine.”

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On Sept. 21, on the Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook page, which Barb says has been a very helpful community to her, she admitted that this month has of her life: “Stress hives, running for our lives, afraid we’d get stuck on the highway, during a Category 5 hurricane.” She thanked everyone who helped her, and noted, “Our hearts are breaking for our friends who lost everything.” True to positive form, Barb says she’s learned through the experience that people are kind, including Florida jeweler Kiran Kumar, who offered to give her beautiful showcases free of charge. She also learned: “Don’t overbuy, save for a rainy day and hug your loved ones and love everyone.”

Three weeks after the evacuation, Barb had driven back down to Key West to pack up her condo, which was undamaged and which she was loaning to a friend who had been made homeless by the hurricane.

On Sept. 27, by phone from Key West: “It has been three weeks now since we evacuated and in that time we had our sights set on several different places in Asheville, and thank God at the 11th hour, Susan West of Blue Goldsmiths, who has two locations, called us and said she would sublet her downtown location to us. It’s right downtown and it’s the most adorable thing you’ve seen.

“Asheville is going to be amazing for us. Three times the tourists that we have in Key West. We have 3 million tourists a year and they have 9 million a year with more affluent demographics. Ultimately this will work out to our benefit by opening us to a new market, but man, nothing has been easy.

“We scrambled back down here to close out the condo and figure out how to handle stuff. Key West is in better shape than every other island that was hit, but there certainly was flooding in parts of town, massive trees down and some places lost their roofs. But in general, if there were people here to work and people here to shop, Key West would be OK.”

Barb plans to return to Key West in January.

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We wish Barb, and every other jeweler displaced by recent hurricanes, the best possible outcome.

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Piercing and Jewelry Firm Raises $3M, Opens First Store

It plans to open more locations in 2020.

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NEW YORK — Studs, a company that describes itself as “a new ear piercing experience,” announced that it is launching nationwide online and opening its first brick-and-mortar location in New York City’s Nolita neighborhood.

The company raised $3 million in funding led by First Round Capital with participation from Lerer Hippeau, as well as additional angel investors. Financing will be used for building retail locations, enhancing the ecommerce experience and expanding the Studs team.

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The company plans to expand its physical retail presence to additional locations in 2020.

Founded by Anna Harman and Lisa Bubbers, Studs was created to modernize the traditional “mall piercing” experience, according to a company press release.

“By combining healthy ear piercing services with omnichannel retail operations and a wide assortment of accessibly-priced earrings, the company offers consumers a seamless path for navigating the previously bifurcated piercing and jewelry landscapes,” the release states.

Anna Harman, co-founder and CEO of Studs, said her company priortizes “healthy needle piercing” and offers a “trend-driven product assortment and accessible pricing.”

Hayley Barna, partner at First Round, said, “With the increasing demand for multiple piercings and jewelry styles becoming particularly trendy amongst this age demographic, tattoo parlors, which can be intimidating, expensive and limited in selection, have become more or less the default” for Generation members.

“I was fortunate to lead Studs’ first funding round and invest in two remarkable founders tackling a large market ready for a new service paradigm and brand voice,” Barna said. “This is a unique investment for First Round and we couldn’t be more excited to be breaking into the space with a brand that is so tapped into the mind of today’s consumer and ready to deliver to their high standards and ever-changing needs.”

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Jewelry Store Linked to Drug Trafficking and $3M Money-Laundering Scheme, Feds Say

36 people have been arrested in the case.

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CINCINNATI – Tri-State Jewelers, a downtown Cincinnati retailer that was raided last week, was linked to drug-distribution and money-laundering networks, authorities say.

A federal grand jury has charged 36 individuals with crimes related to narcotics and money laundering conspiracies in an indictment that was unsealed on Nov. 19.

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Those charged include 22 Cincinnati-area individuals, according to a press release from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Law enforcement agents arrested all 36 defendants late last week and over the weekend.

According to the indictment, beginning in March 2016 and continuing through October 2019, the defendants conspired to possess with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl and 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and cocaine.

The indictment alleges two Cincinnati businesses were used to launder proceeds from the narcotics conspiracy: Tri-State Jewelers on Race Street and Nationwide Automotive on Vine Street. It is alleged that cash was kept stored at both locations. The cash was then allegedly concealed and packaged to be transported to and from the Cincinnati region.

According to the 15-count indictment, between December 2018 and April 2019, defendants stored, at least temporarily, approximately $2.5 million at Tri-State Jewelers.

For example, Tri-State Jeweler accepted $1,400 in cash for the purchase of a diamond pendant necklace in May 2019, $15,000 for the purchase of a diamond ring in June 2019 and $4,000 for the purchase of a diamond ring in July 2019, the DEA stated.

Also in July 2019, Nationwide Automotive accepted $38,800 in alleged narcotics proceeds for the purchase of a vehicle, according to the release.

It is alleged at least $800,000 was laundered at Nationwide Automotive between November 2018 and April 2019.

Co-conspirators are also charged with maintaining drug premises on Prosser and Glenmore avenues in Cincinnati.

DEA seized more than $500,000 in cash, 19 pounds of fentanyl, 3 pounds of heroin, 100 pounds of cocaine, 42 pounds of methamphetamine, 47 weapons, 12 vehicles, the jewelry store inventory, assorted jewelry belonging to defendants and residences valued at approximately $1.1 million total thus far in the case.

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Thanksgiving Weekend to Draw 165M Shoppers With Deals ‘Too Good to Pass Up’

Holiday retail sales are expected to grow 4%.

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(Press Release) WASHINGTON – Retailers are preparing for one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year with an estimated 165.3 million people likely to shop Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, according to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

“The tradition of Thanksgiving weekend holiday shopping has become a five-day event with consumers spending money in stores, supporting local small businesses, and online with their mobile devices and computers,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Even as people are starting to purchase gifts earlier in the season, consumers still enjoy finding good Thanksgiving deals and passing time shopping with family and friends over the long holiday weekend.”

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Throughout the course of the holiday weekend, 39.6 million consumers are considering shopping on Thanksgiving Day, 114.6 million on Black Friday, 66.6 million on Small Business Saturday and 33.3 million on Sunday. The shopping weekend will wrap up on Cyber Monday, when 68.7 million are expected to take advantage of online bargains.

Shay said younger consumers are significantly more likely to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend. Among those ages 18-24, 88 percent say they are likely to shop and particularly enjoy the social aspect. Similarly, 84 percent of those ages 25-34 plan to shop. That compares with 69 percent of holiday shoppers overall.

Of those planning to shop, there is an almost even split of people who plan to start their shopping in-store (47 percent) compared with those who plan to start online (41 percent). Those under 25 are even more likely to say they expect to start shopping in-store (52 percent).

“We expect the biggest increase in potential shoppers for Thanksgiving Day this year,” Prosper Insights Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said. “We anticipate that people may head to stores if they are open or shop from their phones while watching football.”

The top reasons consumers are planning to shop include:

  • The deals are too good to pass up (65 percent)
  • Tradition (28 percent)
  • It’s when they like to start their holiday shopping (22 percent)
  • It’s something to do over the holiday (21 percent)
  • It’s a group activity with friends/family (17 percent)

For consumers who do not plan to shop, more than half (53 percent) say something could convince them. The top reasons given that would change their minds are a sale or discount on an item they want (26 percent), if a family member or friend invites them to shop (12 percent), if they could be sure the items they want are available (11 percent) or a free shipping offer (11 percent).

NRF’s annual forecast estimates that holiday retail sales in November and December will be up between 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent over 2018 for a total of between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion.

The survey of 7,917 adult consumers’ Thanksgiving weekend plans was conducted Oct. 31 through Nov. 6 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

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