“CREEPY, TORTUROUS AND delightful,” is how Jo Goralski of the Jewelry Mechanic in Oconomowoc, WI, describes the experience of reopening her store in May after a months-long, state-mandated COVID-19 shutdown.
“People refusing to wear masks and standing less than 2 feet from me at the counter is creepy,” she says. “Dealing with people’s anxiety and fear (and varying levels of crazy) has been torturous.”
The delightful part is reuniting with customers and friends. “Three weeks into the stay at home order, we knew we would not retire anytime soon because we missed our studio and customers too much,” she says. “Weird times.”
In an early July survey of INSTORE’s Brain Squad members, 162 independent jewelers responded to the question, “When did your store open?” As of July 6, less than 7 percent of them remained closed. And of that segment, some are open by appointment.
Slightly more than half of jewelers who responded to the regular monthly survey said revenues for June were even with or better than what they experienced in June 2019.
No matter the business results, experiences were far from normal. But jewelers who felt prepared and confident themselves were able to set customers at ease.
Jon Walp of Long Jewelers in Virginia Beach, VA, never totally closed. “We came in a couple hours a day, a couple of days a week, mostly to handle clients with repairs and we gradually built up from there.”
By June, routines for dealing with the pandemic were familiar and established, making everyone more comfortable, Walp says. “Clients can sense this, which puts them at ease as well, and makes them more receptive.”
Karen Fitzpatrick of Harris Jewelers in Rio Rancho, NM, also established a routine for everyone’s peace of mind. She’s also ordering air cleaning systems to be installed. “We wrote our own COVID guidelines as at the time of reopening there were no set requirements.” Small stores, she says, due to their size and their flexibility, have an advantage in social distancing and cleaning that large big box stores do not.
Bill Elliott of Ross Elliott Jewelers in Terre Haute, IN, says he has been shocked both by how much sales have gone up (June sales were up over 25 percent compared to June 2019), but also how many people come into the store without masks. He’s also noted a higher average sale in bridal.
Sue Parker of Nyman Jewelers in Excanaba, MI, opened in May with reduced hours the first week. “But we were so busy that the next week we were back at full speed,” she says. Parker reports business in June was way up over last year and noted a quick uptick in engagement-ring sales.
Mark Goodman of Goodman Jewelers of Abingdon, VA, opened in June and has found custom bridal to be in demand. “I did appointment only from April 5 until June 1. By the second week of May I personally was as busy as I could handle by myself. That was six to eight customers per day with about 45 minutes to an hour per customer and cleaning everything in between clients.”
When Joseph Mortimer of Select Jewelers in Feasterville Trevose, PA, opened in June, he found customers were very happy to be back, bringing in repairs and wanting to make up for lost gifts for Mother’s Day, graduations, anniversaries and birthdays.
Others note a surge followed by a more recent slowdown.
Jillian Hornik of Jae’s Jewelers in Coral Gables, FL, however, said after a huge wave of new and returning clients the first four weeks they were open, the past couple weeks have been very quiet, either due to summer holidays or increasing cases of COVID-19 locally.
The first week that Rick Sanders of Sanders Jewelers in Gainesville, FL, opened in May was great, he says. But after that, traffic died down to a trickle and business in June was way down over last year. He attributes the decline to a mask mandate.
“Many people don’t enjoy having to wear a mask,” he says. “I am one of them. I have not done many of the things I used to because of the mask requirements. I would rather stay home and I’m assuming many other people feel the same.”
Debbie Fox of Fox Fine Jewelers says the reopening process was extremely traumatic for her staff and business has been erratic. “There were tears, anger, fear and exhaustion,” she says. “It has not been easy. We opened a month ago. We were so busy that two weeks ago I was hiring. I didn’t find anyone and it had slowed a bit. So, one week ago I put hiring on hold. This week we’re deciding who will be the first to be laid off. Two weeks! From hiring to layoffs. Welcome to our new reality.”
Of those not fully open, some have decided to open by-appointment only; others are recovering from damage to their stores from looting that occurred during protests last month.
“We’re only open for appointments now,” says Susan Kauffman of Black Dog Jewelers in Lewisburg, PA. “This has worked out well. When I tried to just “be open” too many people without masks or any acceptable personal hygiene were coming in because they were “bored”. With appointment only, people have a reason for coming in.” Overall business and online sales are way up and there’s been a huge boom in bridal business.
Betsy Barron of Love & Luxe in San Francisco is open just two days a week by appointment only. “We were hoping to open in August but it’s not looking good in terms of control over the virus.”
Gary Zimmerman of Windy City Diamonds in Chicago is closed because he is still rebuilding after riots destroyed his store.
Denise Oros of Linnea Jewelers had to hang on for a roller-coaster ride of a spring.
“Reopening was a giant nightmare with the riots in the Chicago area,” she says. “We reloaded our cases and emptied our store four times for the COVID-19 shutdown and fear of damage during area outbreaks of looting. “I NEVER want to go through this again.”
She was also concerned that her next-door neighbor business emptied out suddenly, creating an unexpected security risk. “That’s right; let’s talk about a now completely empty store next to a jewelry store. You could hear the gray hair popping out of my skull!”
Despite it all, Oros’ business in June was on a par with June 2019 and online performance this year was way up over last.
Even packing and unpacking inventory has had an upside.
“We all know this year’s collections like the backs of our hands!” she says. “All of us can describe minor elements of items hereto unknown but from handling these little beauties so many times in and out of the case! Voila’ Two months of product training was completed in only a few weeks.”