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How This California Jewelry Retailer’s Brainstorm Fostered a Sense of Unity in the Midst of Natural Disasters

After cities are devastated by fire and mud, jewelers offer emotional boost.

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How This California Jewelry Retailer’s Brainstorm Fostered a Sense of Unity in the Midst of Natural Disasters
A powerful message on a burned-out Ventura home.

With fire raging through Ventura, CA, on the night of Dec. 4, Debbie and George Fox left their home and took refuge in their car. When they finally could make it to their downtown store, Fox Fine Jewelry, they camped out on the floor. Within a couple of days though, before the smoke had begun to clear, the Foxes were looking for ways to help their neighbors, many of whom had lost their homes to the Thomas fire.

Fox has a tradition of giving away jewelry to people in need of an emotional boost. In 2009, Fox Fine Jewelry offered a free “Hearts of Hope” sterling silver pendant to the unemployed on Valentine’s Day, an initiative that garnered tremendous goodwill in the community and, over time, around the country. Years later, recipients return to the store, wearing their necklaces and sharing their stories of how they pulled themselves out of the recession. They still remember the retailer’s kindness that gave them hope during a bleak time, and many have become loyal customers.

This time, they decided the giveaway had to be even more significant. So they designed a Ventura Wave necklace with a 5-point diamond. “I encouraged people who lost their homes to take this as a gift that had meaning in the beginning of their healing,” Debbie says. “Because most of these people in Ventura, at least those who left on that first night, left with nothing.”

They wanted to give something to everyone who had lost their home. At first, that number seemed to be about 150. But by Dec. 14, 900 homes in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties had been destroyed. The fire had burned more than 242,500 acres and was only 30 percent contained. Within weeks, 175 people had come to the store to claim a necklace. 

In response to the expanding devastation, George designed a second pendant, too, with the message “Thrive 805,” for residents within the whole area code, recognizing that the tragedy had spread beyond their town. A pendant for the community of Ojai soon followed. Floods were followed on Jan. 9 by mudslides that devastated Montecito and killed 23 people. And as more people who did not lose their houses began buying them as a symbol of unity, they decided to donate half of the proceeds to the Thomas Fire and Flood Fund.

“We were grief counselors,” Debbie says. “People were coming in with their masks on and crying, showing us videos of their houses going up in flames.”

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Jewel-Craft helped them keep up with the demand as orders outstripped their shop’s capacity. Within a couple of months, they’d given away 500 necklaces and raised $50,000 for charity. Still, they struggled just to cover costs from overtime and credit card fees to boxes, wrapping, administrative costs and commission. It drained resources in the shop and the sales floor. 

Christmas shopping in Ventura was not what anyone expected, but Fox Fine Jewelry saw crowds every day as a result of their generosity. “The amount of good will that we have created from this simple act puts our business in a completely different light for people,” Debbie says. “This necklace is becoming a symbol of strength. It’s becoming an iconic kind of thing.”

The giveaway has been featured on local TV news and on the front page of the local paper. And it gave the Foxes something they weren’t afraid to advertise. “The necklaces made all the difference. Our Christmas was almost as good as the year before, which is really amazing, because I had written Christmas off.” People began bringing in their fire-ravaged jewelry for restoration, too. “It’s built a level of trust you can’t buy,” Debbie says. “You cannot advertise your way into this. There’s something important about being given something by a stranger. It’s just precious to people.”


PHOTO GALLERY (10 IMAGES) 

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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