Craig Husar Fine Jewelry, Brookfield, WI
LYLE HUSAR WAS 25 when, after training as a watchmaker and working just a year for someone else, he and his wife, Alice, opened their first business in 1968 with $5,000 in savings.
Before that, he’d been a machinist, supplementing his income with gigs as a rock musician, beginning with the accordion and piano and adding guitar to his repertoire.
The Tic-Tok Shop, where he sold and repaired clocks and watches, occupied all of 400 square feet. “Every little corner and every little piece of wall you could find, I’d hang a clock on it and as fast as I could hang one clock, another one would sell, and I had to order more.”
Even so, keeping his head above water was a challenge at first. “I had no idea there were that many hats to wear when running a business: carpenter, plumber, electrician? But my wife had a business background. She took care of bookkeeping and I took care of making the money. The goal was to be my own boss and I think I succeeded.”
The couple began adding jewelry lines to their inventory a decade after the business was founded and the business became Lyle Husar Designs Fine Diamonds & Jewelry. “When we first started, it was fun jewelry, not the expensive stuff, but as the years progressed, we got higher grade color and diamonds,” Alice says.
Lyle’s proclivity to wear lederhosen in ads didn’t begin as a marketing ploy but as a protest. He and fellow tenants in the building were frustrated by the lack of control they had over the thermostat. But the unhelpful landlord said they were welcome to wear “more” or “less” clothing to adapt to the temperature. Lyle decided to wear lederhosen (leather shorts with suspenders) as a response to that comment. The attire had the added significance of adhering to the Swiss watchmaker tradition, and it quickly became what he was known for wearing year round, even in the cold of Wisconsin winters. “We always worked it into our ads and got a lot of good laughs out of that, but people remembered us,” Lyle says. The sales staff, all women at the time, played up the theme by wearing drndles, an 18th century German dress and apron combo to complement those lederhosen.
Lyle’s son, Craig, has framed the last pair of lederhosen that his father wore and hung it up in the destination store he designed and opened in 2019. “I often wondered why my dad was wearing lederhosen, in the middle of a Wisconsin winter. As a child, his watch shop, was my playground. I remember a Swiss Matterhorn mural, watches, clocks, and a watch bench filled with tools. I’d often hear “Nice legs Mr. Husar” from little old ladies when I worked. My parents risked everything to pursue the American Dream. This business would become their legacy, and mine as well.”
The dress code today is business casual.
Although Lyle, now 81, began transitioning into retirement about 10 years ago as part of a family succession plan, he continues to work with Craig and daughter Christine in the family business, one day a week, repairing watches and consulting on custom design projects. “They save the best stuff for me,” Lyle says. “There are not a lot of watchmakers around.”
Husar loves the 7,500-square-foot store Craig built in Brookfield, WI. Lyle and Craig together designed the stainless steel diamond shaped-handle on the front door. The watch shop is still known as the Husar Tic-Tok Shop. “Everybody who comes in, their jaw drops and their eyes light up. And there’s a big, “wow.”
Lyle is also impressed with the technological advances he’s seen since 1968. But he does miss a simpler way of doing business. “There were so many things you could do on a handshake, and you just can’t do that nowadays,” he says. “You end up taking everyone’s picture and going through all kinds of paperwork and that takes that many more people to run the place.”
Both Lyle and Alice are involved in volunteer work. Lyle is a member of the Wisconsin Woodworkers Guild, a group that has made as many as 1,000 wooden toys in a year to ensure all children at area women’s shelters have Christmas gifts. Lyle also still plays guitar once in a while, says Alice, particularly when she is watching something on TV that he doesn’t like.
Lyle appreciates the importance of hard work, but he did offer Craig this advice during construction of the new store: “Take a breath every once in a while. Relax.”
“We had a mother and daughter pair that came in and were bound and determined that aliens had been in their house. They said the aliens came in at night and took their rings and filed them down, so they got thinner and thinner, so that’s why all of their jewelry was worn. The front door also had about a quarter of an inch filed off of it. And the aliens sewed their clothes to make them too tight. They just wanted to tell their story. They didn’t want to buy anything.” – Lyle Husar