Connect with us

Published

on

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.”

Advertisement

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.



Apple

Apple

Google

Listen on Google Play Music

Stitcher

Stitcher


PHOTO GALLERY (35 IMAGES)

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.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

Wilkerson Testimonials

A Liquidation Sale during a Pandemic? Wilkerson Showed Them the Way

For 25 years, Stafford Jewelers of Cincinnati, Ohio, was THE place to go for special gifts, engagement diamonds, high-end Swiss watch brands — in other words, the crème de la crème of fine jewelry. But this summer, the Stafford family was ready to retire. So, they chose Wilkerson to help them close up shop. “One of the biggest concerns was having the sale in the middle of COVID,” says Director of Stores Michelle Randle. Wilkerson gave the Stafford team plenty of ideas as well as safety guidelines, which they closely followed. “All of the employees felt safe, the customers coming in the door felt safe and we did a lot of business,” says Randle. How much business? “The inventory flew,” she says. Translation: They sold millions and millions of dollars-worth of merchandise. Randle calls it, “an incredible experience.” Would she recommend Wilkerson to other retailers who are thinking of thinning their inventories or retiring? “Everyone got more than what they expected out of the sale. You have to hire Wilkerson. They’re amazing.”

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular