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Jeweler Closes One Store and Sells Another — but He’ll ‘Never Really Retire’

He shows to up to do benchwork, see old friends and dispense goodwill.

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Bob Mathia with the staff of Diedrich Jewelers. Daughter/manager Ann Belau is on the far left, and daughter/owner Shelly Kastenschmidt is seen over Bob’s right shoulder.

WISCONSIN JEWELER Bob Mathia recently closed one store and sold another, according to the December report from the Jewelers Board of Trade, which lists 48 such transactions.

With a cold front headed toward his hometown of Ripon, Mathia is with his wife, Joan, in Arizona right now, probably playing golf.

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But spring will find him back at Diedrich Jewelers in Ripon, rising at 4:30 as usual, enjoying coffee and the quiet of the North Country morning, then heading for his daily workout before arriving at the store most days around 7:30.

Old habits die hard.

Bob Mathia, 81, went to work at Diedrich Jewelers as a 20-year-old Christmas helper and never left.

“I think they’re going to have me bronzed and put me in a corner,” he says.

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“They” refers to the century-old store’s new owners, Shelly Kastenschmidt (with husband, Derek), and its manager, Ann Belau, who also happen to be two of the five Mathia children, a situation that “makes Mother and Father very happy — and very proud.”

When Joan Mathia was hospitalized with serious health issues last year, Derek and Shelly decided it was best to move the Berlin store and three of its employees to the Ripon store 15 minutes away.

The first order of business under the new owners was a top-to-bottom remodel of the circa 1980 space — all wood paneling and hotel-lobby carpet — into a sleekly modern showcase that Bob, who laughs that he thought the old place was “just great,” describes as “spectacular.”

In the back office, Shelly has instituted no less radical changes in inventory and data management with the help of the Edge software system for jewelers.

On the surface, these would seem to represent a pretty substantial upheaval for a new owner who says her reason for the purchase was “so that outsiders wouldn’t come in and change everything.”

But it was the essence of the store that was worth protecting: an emphasis on highly personalized customer service that dates back to Harry Diedrich, the jeweler who hired Bob that Christmas 61 years ago and taught him not only the specifics of the business, but also his retail mantra that “If you kill ’em with kindness, you’ll do all right.”

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“You have to remember every minute to appreciate that your customers are doing you a great big favor by just coming into the store,” says Bob, whose warmth and generous spirit are evident within minutes even over the phone.

“I think of them all as friends,” says Bob of his customers, “I really do. Even ‘vendors,’ that seems like kind of a cold word to me. A lot of retailers think of vendors as the enemy. But, you know, you work with people and over time you develop a relationship and they’re your friends.”

His friends include people half his age or even younger. “If you aren’t involved with young people, you miss out on learning how another generation functions, and then you’re in trouble.”

Bob says he relishes not having to “scrub floors or clean the toilets anymore,” and he likes being able to “go off and do something that I want to do when I want to do it.”

But he still does some light benchwork, still meets with customers over special orders, and still shows up most days to see old friends and dispense goodwill.

The store remains at the center of his life, as he remains central to the life of the store.

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“He’ll never really retire,” Shelly says. “Thank heaven.”

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Hosting a going-out-of-business sale when the coronavirus pandemic hit wasn’t a part of Bob Smith’s game plan for his retirement. Smith, the owner of E.M. Smith Jewelers in Chillicothe, Ohio, says the governor closed the state mid-way through. But Smith chose Wilkerson, and Wilkerson handled it like a champ, says Smith. And when it was time for the state to reopen, the sale continued like nothing had ever happened. “I’d recommend Wilkerson,” he says. “They do business the way we do business.”

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