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How It Plays In Peoria

Family, light and the right ring all get priority at Midwestern store.

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Jones Bros. Jewelers, Peoria, IL

URL: jonesbros.com; OWNER: Betty Schlacter and Bob Woolsey; FOUNDED: 1939; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2005; AREA: 3,500 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 13; YELP RATING: 5 Stars on Yelp and theknot.com; FACEBOOK: 3,148 likes; ALEXA TRAFFIC RANK: 11,674,929


WHEN JONES BROS.’ freestanding location was designed 10 years ago, an open, airy feeling was a priority for a number of reasons.

A wall of windows lets the prairie light shine through in the summer, and in the winter, with the white stuff swirling outside, it feels like working inside a giant snow globe.

“I love the light,” says co-owner Bob Woolsey. “I have tons of energy and I like it to be fed by the outside light. Having 20 feet of windows even on a day that’s cloudy feels light and bright. It feels like you can really breathe and suck in all the good stuff that comes in from the universe.”

Adding to the effect is the high, open ceiling. “It creates a sophistication that’s not intimidating, an industrial look inside a sophisticated store,” says Woolsey’s mom, co-owner Betty Schlacter. “It has a little bit of roughness to it, and I like that. We like looking like we are a cool store — and upscale — without being intimidating.”

Woolsey also believes that the architectural design elements help ease the fear of jittery engagement-ring shoppers.

“For the guy walking in who is in a uniquely terrified situation, the high, open ceiling gives them the feeling they are not closed in and are free to escape.”

The big windows and airiness also symbolically reflect the transparency and friendliness of the family business.

“The windows, the high ceilings and the people who match the relaxed nature of the store can make just about anyone feel comfortable,” Woolsey says. “We have a great, laid-back team at Jones Bros. with a very family feel. Because of our physical setting and personal way we operate, people are very at ease.”

They’ve even thrown out the coat-and-tie dress code in recent years in favor of relaxed and fun attire.

And as for sales philosophy, Woolsey is honest when he tells customers, “I don’t care if you buy it from me or someone else, I want to make sure that she gets the ring she really wants.”

If they do make the sale, Woolsey says, the staff at Jones Bros. will care about their client as a person.

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Woolsey brothers Bennett and Baird bought the business in 1979 from brothers Earl and Orville Jones, who founded the company in 1939.

Woolsey draws inspiration from stories that customers tell about the approachable Jones brothers. “They would tell someone, ‘You just wear that ring home and if you like it come back and we’ll figure out how you can pay for it.’”

Never Give Up

Schlacter took over the business when her husband, Bennett, died suddenly in 1989.

“Our lesson is to never give up,” she says. She had no problem asking for help: “When my husband died, I had three choices: Sell the business, liquidate the business, or take on the challenge. I found three very wise, successful businessmen and would ask each of them the same question when faced with a decision — the two answers that were the same would lead me to my answer.”

Woolsey joined the business in 1996 after discovering in his last semester of a teaching degree, that he “did not like classrooms.” So, he joined his mother in the store, where he is able to practice his gift of gab. “I like to find out where people are in life and come up with a strategic way to get them to a happy ending,” he says. “And we get along very well,” he says of his mom. “It’s a true partnership.”

The partners went through some tough times together. Due to strong competition and a weak location, sales dropped in 2002. “Our accounting firm suggested we close the store,” Schlacter says. “I suggested we try a bit longer. With a new location, new manager and new bench jeweler, we doubled past annual sales.”

The JBJ Way

As cool as their store is now, Schlacter considers what she has begun to call “The JBJ Way,” to be the coolest aspect of the business. Although she and Woolsey have long had a family approach to running the business, recently they’ve begun to recognize the true value of their philosophy.

They’ve always been closed on Sunday, and nine years ago, they began closing on Monday, too, allowing the entire staff to be off for the same two days in a row. Now, when a customer comes to the store, he or she is greeted by the same group of staff members every day. That cuts down on the chaos that can come from customers trying to remember schedules.

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“We know we give up business, especially on Sunday, which is popular for the bridal shopper,” says Schlacter. “But we are willing to live our lives according to the income we get and not envy what we could have in addition to that.”

What initially seemed to be a business disadvantage, is now respected by their customers. “We stand on those principles now, and we market the value of being closed for two days a week,” Schlacter says. “What I realized is that there are people who really value that attitude and those are the people who we want in our store. I have a photo of myself and my granddaughter in a kayak on my desk reminding me time with family is more important than money in the bank,” Schlacter says.

That attitude fits in well with millennial shoppers, who value their own personal time and quality of life.

Schlacter spends a lot of time adjusting her marketing approach to the modern customer, which means a move away from radio to social media, including Facebook and Google ads.

“I don’t understand every bit of it and I have to Google different parts of it to understand what they are talking about. We’re working at doing it ourselves, as well as finding people who are good at it, and employing them.

“We’re in a transition time,” she says. “I’m 67 years old, and as I’m winding down it’s exciting to see a whole new group of people that has all this energy to bring to everything we do. It’s a challenge, but the most exciting thing is to be challenged and to have the opportunity to learn something new.”

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Five Cool Things About Jones Bros. Jewelers

1. NURTURING GLOBAL TALENT. One important item on Schlacter’s “bucket list” was to find jewelry or art pieces created by women from Third World countries and sell it for them. She has sold necklaces and bracelets made by women from Africa, and paper bead jewelry from Uganda, as well as products designed by a Spanish artist, whose workshop is in Rwanda.

2. TAKING PRECAUTIONS. The store’s restroom is also a storm shelter, reinforced with cinderblocks, in case of a tornado. “We are out on the prairie,” says Woolsey. “It could happen.”

3. HIRING FOR HAPPINESS. When hiring, Schlacter looks for a passion for work, as well as a proven track record. “It took six months to fill the last position,” Schlacter says. “We try to match the person very clearly with the job they will be doing. It’s important to align people with their unique abilities so that when they come to work they have a really good time.”

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4. PROPOSELIKEAMAN.COM. Woolsey wrote a book, “Propose Like a Man,” for guys who want to propose in a special way. He’s trademarked the idea, and is in the process of creating a website about it. “I believe in my heart of hearts that every guy is capable of delivering the perfect proposal and that every girl deserves the perfect proposal. All guys need is just a little bit of help to make it their own. Sales is very much a counseling process.”

5. PRIVATE LIVES. Schlacter works well with her son, while maintaining a separate family relationship with him. “Our approach to working with family in the business is to keep family in appropriate places and to keep business with business. Years ago, she says, she eliminated all conversation about business from holidays and family celebrations. It wasn’t easy, she admits. “When we started doing that, we found there was nothing to talk about. So we got out bingo games. And pretty soon it became normal not to talk about business during the family time. We do try to keep it separate and not overlap.”

TRY THIS: Attitude of Gratitude

Each staff meeting begins with a gratitude focus, and the staff records positive experiences each week. “We believe in stating and living in the positive,” Schlacter says. “We end our Saturday team meetings with “Laughing Yoga.”

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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America's Coolest Stores

Nautical-Themed Vancouver Store Finds Room for Imagination

A more relaxed Erik Runyan Jewelers is rejuvenated in its new location.

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BIG COOL 1ST PLACE: Erik Runyan Jewelers, Vancouver, WA

Finding Their Sea Legs

Erik and Leslie Runyan feel at home in a new store with nautical notes and a casual ambience.

OWNERS: Erik & Leslie Runyan | URL: runyansjewelers.com | FOUNDED: 1917 | OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017 | EMPLOYEES: 11 | AREA: 2,350 square feet | BUILDOUT COST: $300,000 | ARCHITECT: Wilson Associates Architects | DESIGN FIRM: Strong Associates | TOP BRANDS: Gabriel & Co., Mark Schneider, Bergio | ONLINE PRESENCE: 873 Facebook likes, 735 Instagram followers, 4.9 stars with 22 Google reviews


TO HAVE YOUR SEA LEGS is to be able to walk calmly and steadily on a tossing ship, or to become accustomed to a new or strange situation. For Erik Runyan, a licensed ship captain and fourth-generation jeweler, being at sea is natural. And being able to express himself in his new store has made him ready to navigate the vicissitudes of a changing jewelry market that unsettles many a mid-career jeweler.

He and his wife, Leslie, have found their sea legs at work.

Runyan is not a suit-and-tie kind of a guy at heart. So after spending decades buttoned-up, figuratively and literally, the couple let their personalities shine through when they moved to their new Main Street location in Vancouver, WA. They hunted for and then hung a canoe upside down from the ceiling, and it became a chandelier. They flooded the space with natural light. They played music they like, including Lyle Lovett, Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash and Van Morrison. They celebrated customers’ special occasions with their own wine label. And one day, Erik announced that he was finished with a business-attire dress code and began wearing jeans and polo shirts to work. Leslie was happy to follow suit.

If you want to be current today, you have to be old to be new. Our interpretation of the space as nautical took off like a ball of fire.

Although the previous location, where they’d been since 1991, was just blocks away, it was considered a more established commercial area, so moving to a new place seemed risky to some observers. “I had worked there all my life,” Runyan says. The store was beautiful, in a 1980s kind of way with oak cases, a false ceiling and brass track lights. “In my mind it was a proper 1980s mall jewelry store,” Runyan says. It was beginning to show wear, however, and although they had attempted to remodel, it just wasn’t working.

And then, with a new store in the works, Erik lost his father, Steve, just months before the move, making the transition seem even more of a significant milestone. “He was steadfast in his work, and came in every day until his passing. His jubilant spirit still surrounds the place,” Erik says.

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The new location is at the forefront of an unprecedented $2 billion Vancouver waterfront revitalization that has brought restaurants, wine-tasting rooms and nightlife to downtown.

The big brick building with 18-foot ceilings and lots of natural light beckoned to Runyan when it was being built out by family friends. “I walked in and I was blown away by all the wood on the ceiling and the height of it,” he says. “If you want to be current today, you have to be old to be new. Urban lofty is what people are looking for. We took the space, and because of my quirky background, it just organically happened. Our interpretation of the space as nautical took off like a ball of fire.”

That ball of fire was set in motion once they had found a canoe to purchase and Steve Strong of Strong Construction crafted it into a chandelier. After that, it was natural to install a galley coffee center under the stairs, to hang a ship wheel on the wall and make sure it actually spins, and to greet customers with an exotic-wood compass rose inlaid in the floor near the entrance. Other nautical notes include plank wood flooring, a “welcome aboard” sign, and visibly marked latitude and longitude coordinates.

The store is adjacent to the Columbia River, and the canoe is a powerful symbol for Runyan, for several reasons. The river and access to the ocean created the city of Vancouver and still define both the city and the store. When not running the store, Runyan can be found crewing aboard motor yachts from Mexico to Canada, as a licensed Merchant Marine 100-ton captain.

Erik and Leslie also tracked down the magnificent early 20th century Queen Anne ball-and-leg jewelry cases that Erik’s dad had discovered in Butte, MT, on vacation and used in the family store in the 1980s. When the 1991 store was built, those cases didn’t fit the space or the motif, and so were donated to a museum, and when the museum closed, the cases were mothballed. “We got them back and found craftsmen to refurbish them,” Erik says. He had complementary cases hand-built for the middle of the store by a carpentry shop, creating a cohesive look.

The company’s original cash register and safe look comfortable, too, in a store loaded with digital accoutrements and laser welders.

Staff members Kelsey Price, left, and Conor McHale enjoy the natural light on a June afternoon.

The combination of well-made furnishings and the lofty atmosphere set clients at ease, including young engagement ring shoppers who bring new energy. “Bridal drives it. That’s the first purchase. Between bridal and estate, that’s how I’m making a living,” Runyan says. “We purposely built it to be a more casual environment and to interest the next generation. Having food and drink and a comfortable environment, social media and digital platforms are all important.”

Along with eschewing business attire, Erik and Leslie have improved the quality of life for themselves and their staff by closing on Sundays and Mondays. “We had been open six days a week for 101 years. So the routine I was used to was Monday to Friday, 10 to 5:30 and 10 to 3 on Saturday, but I couldn’t get happy with that here,” he says. So they began closing Sunday and Monday, and now are open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. “I’ve made a lot of decisions in 30 years or so, and that was the best choice at a personal level, a quality of life level. We really enjoy that. Being happy at the end of the day creates a better result, and Saturday has become an important day for us in the business.”

Erik’s great-grandfather, W.L., started the business from a watch bench in the bus depot in the early 1900s, where the Pacific Coast Highway stopped at the Columbia River for the ferry crossing. In 1917, Runyan’s Jewelers was born.

The store is fun for Leslie and me. It’s an absolute rejuvenation. With a new environment, it feels like I almost have a new job.

“My first memories of the family business are looking out the windows of our house to see my impeccably dressed grandparents, who were our neighbors, headed off to work,” Erik says. “The jewelry store seemed to be a magical place. The first generation used watch repair to sustain the store; the second, William, used business skills to create a viable modern jewelry company; the third, Steve, was a trained bench jeweler who focused on the shop. Now it’s my turn. As the fourth, I’ve focused on diamonds, custom work, and Internet marketing. Certainly W.L. Runyan could not have imagined his great-grandson introducing the family business to the world over the Internet.

“This new store, built using century-old techniques, is the culmination of four generations and 100 years, and has been relocated back to its original neighborhood, in conjunction with its 100-year anniversary.”

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Erik describes the business as a living piece of history ready to move into its second century of business.

“Embrace change,” he says. “People — and my customers are no exception — resist change. It has taken time getting them accustomed to finding us at 501 Main. My payoff comes when they walk in the front door ready to complain about their ‘cheese being moved,’ but then stand there at the front door and start to smile and then audibly sigh, saying, ‘OK, now I get it!’”

“The store is fun for Leslie and me,” he says. “It’s an absolute rejuvenation. With a new environment, it feels like I almost have a new job. It’s made a difference. Life’s gotten a little better.”

Judges’ Comments

Benjamin Guttery: They really embrace their history and surroundings. From the nautical compass inlaid in the floor when you walk in, to the custom canoe chandelier (that has a hashtag and campaign around it: #underthecanoe), you know you’re in the Pacific Northwest. Again, the theme of today’s “coolest big stores in North America” is think, act, and be local minded.

Elle Hill: Love it! This is a COOL store. The rustic warm wood, the canoe light fixture, the feel of this man and how he loves the water can all be felt from the website to the store interior to the marketing materials. This is the type of authenticity all retailers should strive for!

Michael Roman: I like the history behind the Queen Anne display cases and the ornamental compass rose. Creating a wine label to promote business is a nice tie-in to the wine events held within the store.

Bob Phibbs: I love the sense of place in this location with the canoe chandelier as well as the refurbishing of the fixtures. The out-of-the-box idea of the wine and opening it with shoppers as well as sending it home is very creative. The online is a great mix of education and product.

Mark Tapper: The canoe chandelier is just so cool and so connected with the nautical theme of the store and the community.

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5 COOL THINGS ABOUT ERIK RUNYAN JEWELERS

1 Under the canoe. It’s the store’s tagline. and event theme. The canoe symbol is also used in ERJ’s advertising and social media. Erik has designed a canoe-motif necklace, as well, which will be made in sterling silver as well as in gold.

2 Proprietary wine. A wine label is part of the ERJ branding plan. “It gives me great pleasure to open and share a bottle with a customer or send them home with some to enjoy later,” Runyan says. They also introduced Wine Wednesdays, when light appetizers and local seasonal wines are used to create a fun and casual environment, under the canoe.

3 Reinvented inventory. The inventory is a mix of bridal, diamonds, custom and estate. Beyond that, the Runyans look for jewelry that isn’t found anywhere else. “There’s something unique about it that drives me to want to buy it,” Runyan says. “Prior to 2008, we had zero estate jewelry. It was 2010 or 2011 that I started acknowledging that it existed and that helped tremendously. Fifty percent of sales were lost during the recession and we had to find a way to reinvent ourselves, other than just nurturing the bridal.”

4 A spirit of adventure. The Runyans’ roots in the community and spirit of adventure offer an authentic brand experience. Erik and Leslie’s three daughters, now adults, grew up boating and riding dirt bikes on weekends. Erik continues to regularly pursue both of those hobbies, providing him with material for storytelling in the store. His staff, too, has a gift for gab, he says, in the tradition of life aboard a ship.

5 The shadow. Rae is a German shepherd who follows Leslie around the store like a shadow — all day. While she likes about 80 percent of the people she meets, she will simply ignore the others. She takes her job seriously, though, and will lie in front of the entry door while the staff is setting up for the day. When it’s time for her compensation, she will sit and stare at the treat jar, conveniently placed at her eye level.

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Here Are This Year’s America’s Coolest Store Honorable Mentions

These 10 stores will be featured over the next year in INSTORE.

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Big Cool Honorable Mentions

Day’s Jewelers

Nashua, NH

The Coreys

Jeff and Kathy Corey opened a 5,000-square-foot destination store, their eighth location, in 2018. With updated branding and imagery, the store design grabs millennials’ attention while maintaining a reputation for representing fine jewelry. A two-story vestibule creates a transparent glass wall along its curved exterior, establishing a theme that carries throughout the casework and ceiling. The curves create a free-flowing traffic pattern that leads patrons throughout the interior while also maximizing linear-display space.

John Atencio

Lone Tree, CO

John Atencio

Jewelry designer John Atencio’s sixth store was designed to create a visually compelling and luxurious experience while maximizing display space within a 600-square-foot footprint. The most striking aspect of the location is the large, transparent facade crafted from oversize panes of tempered glass. From the outside, the store looks sleek and inviting, and inside, the space is flooded with natural light.

Provident Jewelry

Jupiter, FL

Geoff Fear, Rob Samuels, Nick Linca, Seth Berman, Scott Diament

Owners Seth Berman, Scott Diament, Nick Linca and Robert Samuels teamed up to create a Dream Factory luxury lounge inside their flagship location. Clients can mingle, relax and enjoy a cocktail for a memorable in-store experience. Custom experiences for clients extend far beyond the store’s walls and have included test driving one-of-a-kind cars, meeting the CEOs behind watch brands, racing a car at YAS Marina Circuit, golfing with pro golfers, sailing on the America’s Cup committee boat in Bermuda and flying to Switzerland to tour a watch factory.

H1912

Princeton, NJ

Hamilton owners

Under the leadership of owner Martin Siegel and store manager Lea D’Onofrio, H1912 is part of the Hamilton Jewelers family of brands. It’s on the same street in the same small town as one of its parent locations of Hamilton Jewelers, but since its 2015 inception, it’s carved out a niche for itself that it backs up with a cutting-edge website, charity partnerships and a digital-first marketing plan. The 1912 in its name references the year Hamilton was founded and plays up the vintage angle of its inventory. H1912 buyers travel to estate shows, antique shows and auctions to handpick one-of-a-kind vintage pieces. Every vintage item at H1912 is refinished, refurbished, polished, or overhauled in-house before hitting the showcase.

Mitchum Jewelers

Ozark, MO

Mitchum jewelers

Mitchum Jewelers, owned by Randy Mitchum, doubled its size in 2018 in an upscale renovation orchestrated by store designer Jesse Balaity of Balaity Property Enhancement. One eye-catching element of the new building is the illuminated diamond prominently displayed on the building’s exterior. Mitchum has also set itself apart marketing-wise with a hugely successful TV commercial campaign that features customer testimonials. Use of the slogan “Your Jeweler For Life” in all of Mitchum’s ads has added to the branding surge, as has a related jingle that customers love to sing whenever they happen to run into Randy.


Small Cool Honorable Mentions

Yaf Sparkle

New York, NY

Yaf Boye-Flaegel

This is the second Lower East Side location and second America’s Coolest Stores Award for Yaf Sparkle, owned by Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel. When the couple moved into the new spot and peeled off layers of cement, they were excited to find old bricks in good condition crowned by an arched brick ceiling. They added a wooden floor and brought in furniture made of reclaimed wood for a vintage rustic look. The neighborhood is full of life and excitement, to which Yaf Sparkle contributes by spreading glitter across the sidewalk outside the store. Marketing benefits from an in-house photo studio. Customers have voted Yaf Sparkle as among the top three shopping experiences in New York City on Trip Advisor.

JC Jewelers

Jackson Hole, WY

Jan and Jeter Case

Jan and Jeter Case greet visitors from all over the world in their 240-square-foot log-cabin showroom in a gateway town to the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Three to 4 million people visit the area every year, and of those, about 1 million are from China. They’ve gone to great lengths to be hospitable, learning Mandarin phrases and labeling gemstones with translations. They also use Google Translate to communicate with non-English speakers. These efforts have gone a long way, they say, toward making international guests feel comfortable.

Malka Diamonds & Jewelry

Portland, OR

David and Ronnie Malka

Malka Diamonds & Jewelry, owned by David and Ronnie Malka, is a 1,000-square-foot boutique shop in downtown Portland that specializes in engagement and wedding jewelry. David is a graduate gemologist, who enjoys educating clients in a no-pressure atmosphere. The shop also highlights the work of two master jewelers on site. The store houses a collection of modern designs, antique and vintage jewelry and unconventional options, such as salt-and-pepper, rose-cut and unique-shaped diamonds. The store is bolstered by a cheerful staff and robust digital presence.

Talisman Collection

El Dorado Hills, CA

Andrea Riso

With a 3,300-square-foot showroom, this Small Cool store lives large! Owner Andrea Riso designed the floor plan to accommodate wide-open spaces, plenty of seating and a meandering river-style path that creates a sense of discovery. Décor is surrealistic and includes massive blown-glass fixtures, a library-lounge man cave, a tech oasis for kids, a bar and interactive areas that engage and enchant people of all ages. They’re known for designing and rendering original custom pieces for clients within 48 hours, as well as offering the custom-design services of 78 independent designer brands represented in the store.

Welling & Co. Jewelers

West Chester, OH

Bill and Daniel Welling

Father and son owners Bill and Daniel Welling built a modern, industrial-style jewelry store on a well-traveled road between Cincinnati and Dayton, in Ohio’s booming Butler County. The family-owned store, founded in 1920, makes its most recent home in a hangar built in the 1940s by a pilot to house a folding-wing airplane. Interior designer Leslie McGwire retained original interior brick from the building to set the tone for the renovation, which is complemented by an open slate-gray painted ceiling and a textured wood plank floor. A wide range of merchandise and price points adds to the welcoming ambience.

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America's Coolest Stores

Kentucky’s EAT Gallery Offers a Window on the Gem World

International gem dealers remake small-town diner into a treasure chest of unique jewelry and art.

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SMALL COOL 1ST PLACE: EAT Gallery / Maysville, KY

Hometown Treasure

International gem dealers remake a diner into a jewelry showplace.

OWNERS: Simon and Laurie Watt | MANAGER: Katherine Cotterill | OPENED: 2006 | LAST RENOVATED: 2014 | SHOWCASES: Grice Showcase | EMPLOYEES: 2 | AREA: 1,500 square feet total; 800 square-foot showroom | TOP BRANDS: Alishan, Erica Courtney, Jane Bohan, Bree Richey and EAT Gallery natural stone and pearl jewelry | ONLINE PRESENCE: 1,428 Facebook likes, 877 Instagram followers, 4.9 stars with 31 Google reviews


ON THE BANKS OF the Ohio River, in a picturesque Kentucky town that once was a hub of the tobacco industry, international gem dealers Simon and Laurie Watt have created an unexpected local treasure that’s also a regional tourist attraction.

By transforming a landmark of a downtown diner into a retail jewelry gallery, they have offered a gift to the town they’ve called home since they relocated from Los Angeles to Maysville, KY, in 1993.

Before the life-changing move, Simon regularly flew into Cincinnati to visit regional clients of their company, Mayer & Watt. But after visiting Maysville over several years to spend time with a client, Simon began considering how to move his family and business out of L.A. to the charming town with a population of about 10,000. At that point, he was invited to dinner at the home of his client’s friend, who was about to move and put his house on the market. Something resonated with Simon when visiting that house, which he describes as a 7,000-square-foot Victorian mansion with stained glass and pocket doors, about 12 miles from Maysville.

“The house spoke to me and said, this is your home,” he recalls.

Laurie’s initial reaction to that bit of life-changing news can’t be printed, Simon says. But the couple had made seemingly impulsive moves before. They’d married just 10 days after they met, for example. And, practically speaking, the house cost a tiny fraction of anything they’d ever be buying in or around L.A. Laurie came around to Simon’s point of view, and now can’t imagine life turning out any other way.

After becoming well-established and active in the community, they made another unlikely decision in 2006: they wanted to open a retail jewelry store and gallery in a 200-year-old downtown building.

When unsuspecting visitors come in looking for food, we tell them that we are here to feed their souls.

The diner itself had made an indelible impression on Simon; it was the first place in Maysville he had ever eaten. They kept the exterior EAT sign and invented the gallery’s name to fit the sign: EAT Gallery is also known as Exquisite Art Treasures. “When unsuspecting visitors come in looking for food, we tell them that we are here to feed their souls!” Simon says.

EAT Gallery is an example of the potential lurking in the beautiful old buildings in historic downtown Maysville. They restored the original hardwood floors and exposed the brick walls. The tin ceiling was long lost, so they replicated the original with a stamped-aluminum replacement.

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As gem dealers, the couple wanted to introduce their community to the world of crystals and minerals. Each piece of stone and pearl jewelry strung in-house is one of a kind. They also began to showcase jewelry made by friends in the industry, pieces from local artists and eclectic finds from the Tucson jewelry shows. Handcrafted jewelry is displayed alongside framed butterflies, hand-printed scarves and local art. Mineral specimens, natural stone carvings and fossils are scattered throughout the rest of the displays among jewelry from designers in both Kentucky and around the world, creating a compelling mix of old, new and natural.

The goal from the beginning was for the retail business to exist independently of their wholesale gem business.

“I can’t say it had nothing to do with Mayer & Watt, because it was inspired by us and our love for the business,” Laurie says. “The reality is a lot of the jewelry has our gems in them because they were made by our clients. But our gem business is strictly wholesale. We don’t sell to the public. So we have two separate identities.”

What Simon and Laurie hadn’t seriously considered was how challenging it would be to find an entrepreneurially minded manager living in Maysville who could take on the full responsibility of running the retail operation. No one they hired seemed to buy into the vision they had for the store’s potential.

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This is where Katherine Cotterill enters the story.

Nearly three years ago, Cotterill moved back to her hometown of Maysville and her resume floated Simon’s way. “I read her resume and said, we need to meet her,” he says. What struck Simon about her resume was her range of experiences — that not only had she traveled the world, she also had an MBA and had worked as an oenologist (a wine scientist) in Washington state, Napa Valley, CA, and New Zealand. She’d managed a resort in Samoa in the South Pacific. What she did not have was any retail jewelry experience.

But they knew they’d made the right decision just days after she started the job, when she began telling them what needed to be done in the business. “We really don’t run this place; she does,” Laurie says. “We try to meet every week or two and work together on ideas and promotions.”

Cotterill quickly discovered she loved working with jewelry, too, and, having become obsessed with pearls, she took an online pearl class and traveled on a pearl-harvesting trip to Mexico.

The Watts encourage her enthusiasm for the gem and jewelry industry by making educational opportunities available with groups such as WJA and the Cultured Pearl Association of America and sending her to shows, including the Tucson gem shows and jewelry week in Las Vegas.

“We wouldn’t have gotten where we are without Katie,” Simon says. “She is our hometown girl who has traveled the world and come back home again.”

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Although treasures can be found at prices that top out at $50,000, Simon says they make an effort to balance out price points. “Everything in here is very good value, especially the crystals and specimens. We tend to buy what we think is beautiful. In the wholesale business, we buy what turns us on, not what we think we can sell; we do the same here.”

They say they like to come in here because everything has a story, and it’s so true. We know who made everything.

Often EAT Gallery serves as a conduit to the outside world of the jewelry industry that local residents wouldn’t otherwise have access to. So, for example, if a client is wowed by a creation from jewelry designer Erica Courtney’s collection, that may not mean an immediate sale on a consignment piece, but could lead to a custom project in collaboration with the designer.

“Having been in the industry for 40-plus years, we have had the opportunity to meet wonderfully talented designers and industry professionals in every sector imaginable,” Simon says. “The customers love that we know the designers and have the ability to find the perfect gemstones and just the right person to create what they are imagining.

“And I think a lot of jewelry stores have taken a wrong turn in that when people walk in the door, they ask, what do you want? Instead of saying, let me show you what we have. Quite frankly, most of our customers have never seen 99 percent of what we have in here.”

Cotterill can attest to the success of that approach, based on customer response. “They say they like to come in here because everything has a story, and it’s so true,” she says. “We know who made everything.”

Judges’ Comments

Julie Ettinger: I love that this store kept the history of its space and created the name from the original sign, EAT, that still remains today. They also carry some fabulous designers.

Julie Gotz: I love the idea of having a mixed-use space! The owners have done a great job of creating a visually exciting and eclectic store. The displays are beautifully done with lots of attention to detail. I absolutely love the neon “EAT” sign — it’s definitely a great way to pay homage to the history of the building. The store has done an amazing job with non-traditional marketing and being such an important part of the community.

Joel Hassler: The mineral specimens really add to the unique feel of the store and the focus on education.

Barbara Ross-Innamorati: I love the uniqueness of every aspect of this store, from the historic building to the wide variety of items and price points you can find here. It’s almost like a treasure hunt and the process of discovery is what makes this store so special.

Hedda Schupak: I love the clever approach to everything in this store, beginning with the sign and preservation of the building’s history and how it drove the store name. Love the out-of-the-box marketing plan and how well it fits what the store stands for, plus the look of the store is such a nice departure from your standard jewelry store. This is the first store I’ve seen use Trip Advisor for marketing, which is an excellent and creative idea.

Eric Zuckerman: You don’t generally associate a neon sign from a diner as the right exterior for a jewelry store, but EAT Gallery has made it work perfectly. The store’s beautiful original hardwood floors, exposed brick and replicated tin-style ceiling match well the charm of the historic downtown location.

Special Podcast: Katherine Cotterill of EAT Gallery on JimmyCast

Jimmy DeGroot and Doug Meadows get some tips on cool from the manager (and sole full-time employee) of EAT Gallery.



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5 COOL THINGS ABOUT EAT GALLERY

1 Making a splash online. Because the designers featured in the gallery tend to focus on colored gemstones, their jewelry creates bright, memorable images for Instagram and Google searches. Cotterill also launched a video blog series on YouTube and the website called “Welcome to the Gallery.” In each episode, she tries on jewelry to demonstrate how it looks on a person, or introduces viewers to a piece of art.

2 Interactive ideas. Last year, Cotterill began the year with a social-media extravaganza. Every Monday for six weeks, she posted a task or a question on Instagram and Facebook for the store’s followers. On Saturday afternoons, participants were entered into a live drawing for an EAT Gallery swag bag. She also organized a contest at Thanksgiving called Thankful For, in which she invited people to write about who they are thankful for and why. The winner was given an original painting.

3 Marketing magic. EAT Gallery focuses on artsy media outlets where they can reach people who appreciate the craftsmanship of one-of-a-kind handmade pieces. They run an onscreen ad with product photography at three movie houses that show foreign and independent films as well as blockbusters in Cincinnati. They also are sponsors of National Public Radio and a local theater company, which loves to use inventory to dress their onstage characters.

4 It’s on the map. In Maysville, EAT Gallery is often in the top 3 list of things to do on Trip Advisor for day-trippers, along with Kentucky Gateway Museum and the Old Pogue Distillery.

5 Bourbon tourism. EAT Gallery offered a give away of Maysville’s Old Pogue bourbon last year to bourbon-driven tourists who stopped by the gallery, filled out a wish list and signed up for the mailing list. The event coincided with the annual release of Old Pogue bourbon and the opening of the Northern Kentucky B-Line self-guided tour of the Bourbon Trail. Maysville is the B-Line’s official gateway city.

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