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Jewelry Store Continues Under New Ownership, Mixing Old Ways with Modern Technology

It’s one of 51 stores reported closed or under new ownership in September.

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Pictured here are Mary Loose Deviney, right, with her late mother, Francis Elizabeth Gibson Loose

AMONG THE 51 STORES reported closed or under new ownership in September by the Jewelers Board of Trade, there’s been a changing of the guard at Tuel Jewelers, a mainstay of brick-lined, pedestrians-only Main Street in Charlottesville, VA, since 1945.

History is everything in Charlottesville, founded in 1762. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe were born here. Jefferson’s Monticello is a few miles outside town. The University of Virginia, which he founded, is based here, on a campus designated as a World Heritage site. Tuel’s — whose most consistent seller over the years is the silver Jefferson cup, designed by the third president — dates its own history to the era when railroad watchmakers and repair shops began to add jewelry items, mostly for men at first, tie-tacks and cufflinks, then engagement rings and wedding jewelry, creating a post-War generation of hometown jewelry stores. 

Local resident Francis Elizabeth Gibson went to work as a bookkeeper for Tuel’s in 1953, gradually earning GIA certification through a correspondence course. In 1975, with the support of husband Hermann Loose, a Swiss-born cattle rancher, she bought the store, thus becoming the first female merchant in town.

Francis Elizabeth Gibson Loose’s last day at work was Dec. 28, 2017. When she died eight days later, at 86, the local movie theater mourned her with a marquee reading “A jewel is lost in downtown.” By the time Francis Loose’s daughter Mary entered the store in the 1960s, at two days old, Tuel’s already was on its way to becoming the community center it remains today.

“After 9-11, this is where people came to just sit in the chairs and talk,” says new owner Mary Loose Deviney. “I mean, it’s a store, a way of deriving income, sure, but Tuel’s is so much more than that. It’s almost a creature, a living thing in this community. I don’t really think of myself as the owner. I’m more like the caretaker.”

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Mary Loose Deviney left home to study accounting at college, then returned to Charlottsville take care of her grandmother, working at the store part-time. She had intended to move away to a position with one of big eight international accounting firms of the 1980s, but then after her grandmother’s death she took her mother aside and said, “I think I’d like to stay on, if you’ll have me.” 

Any regrets to passing on a chance at a larger world than her hometown?

“Oh no, not a one,” Mary Deviney says. “That was one of Momma’s lessons. Try to live without regrets.” 

Mary combines her Old World skills with customers and on the bench with savvy modern business training, sprinkling her conversations with references to “our analytics.”

Although sales are all still rung up on a crank cash register in the front of the store, there’s a modern computer system at work in the back. 

“I have always felt that technology is our friend,” Mary says, citing its influence on the manufacture of today’s lighter, cheaper jewelry. “I think the more people wearing jewelry, the better, you know. They develop the habit.”

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As for technology’s effect on sales, there is almost a shrug in her voice as she says, “An internet site can’t make repairs or size a ring. The colors on the internet are not true to life. Photographs are easily manipulated as to size. At this point, people have had that one or two bad experiences buying online. They know that if they want quality they have to go to an honest-to-goodness jewelry store.

“Our business is about relationships, and relationships are long-term.”

Any changes in store under the new caretaker of Tuel Jewelers?

“Oh no, no, no,” says Mary Deviney. “I think our customers would revolt.”

Editor’s note: Of the 54 stores in the JBT’s preliminary figures for September– slightly more than the 51 stores reported in final numbers for the previous month — three were listed as consolidations, eight as acquisitions, and the balance as discontinuances.

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Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at [email protected].

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