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Show of Strength

Family tragedy and a recession couldn't stop this store from being built.

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Howard’s Diamond Center; Triadelphia, WV

URL: www.howardsdiamondcenters.com; OWNER: Seth B. Posin; FOUNDED: 1980; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2010; AREA: 2,500 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 3 full-time, 5 part-time; BRANDS: Le Vian, Scott Kay, Trollbeads, Lovelinks, Yehuda, John Bagley


IT TAKES CHUTZPAH TO elocate a business in a bad economy. It requires strength to forge ahead even as tragedy strikes. The staff of Howard’s Diamond Center had both, and the result is a sparkling new store that blends modern verve with nods to family and local history.

In 1923, Samuel Posin, a Russian immigrant to West Virginia by way of China and San Francisco, opened a jewelry store in downtown Wheeling, WV. Samuel’s son, Howard, continued the family business with a new store downtown in 1980. “Howard’s Diamond Center was a small-town jewelry store with a loyal clientele that often spanned generations,” says Howard’s son, Seth.

But downtown Wheeling was deteriorating even before the Great Recession hit. Seth Posin approached the developers of a new destination shopping center, The Highlands, which opened in 2004 with a Cabela’s outdoor store as its anchor. He learned there was no room on the original site for small shops, but there were eventual plans for a “town center” development nearby. He stayed in touch.

By the time the stock market crashed in the fall of 2008, Seth Posin and his sister Shelby had begun negotiating a lease in The Highlands’ town center. “It worked to our advantage because they really wanted to fill spaces,” Posin says. They finally signed a lease in May 2010. On June 8, 2010, Seth and Shelby met with Don Baker of Baker Store Equipment and his chief designer, Gerry Gonda, to look at the site. Just three days later, Shelby died from a heart attack.

“It would have been easy to walk away at that point, but Shelby would never forgive me for that,” Posin says. “Gerry literally took the ball from there. He took complete control of the project and kept it on schedule.” Gonda adds: “I can’t imagine a harder set of circumstances to execute a design and fabrication of a store. My hat is off to Seth for keeping his head in the game.” The new store opened in November 2010, and the Posins dedicated it to Shelby’s memory.

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Three years later, Howard’s Diamond Center is thriving in its new location. The store anchors a small shopping center across from a movie megaplex at The Highlands. When theatergoers leave the show, they see a circular fountain with rising and falling jets of water — and just beyond it, Howard’s Diamond Center, with a stunning custom art glass chandelier visible in the 30-foot-high turreted windows that cap the store.

The chandelier, one of two in the store by Robert Kuster, has 250 pieces of hand-blown glass in light purple accented by clear amethyst. The chandeliers have proven to be tourist attractions, with many customers asking if they can take photographs, Posin says. In fact, the brilliant fixtures are so popular that Howard’s Diamond Center began carrying a line of jewelry inspired by them. The focus on glass is especially appropriate since West Virginia has a long history in that industry.

The chandeliers may command attention, but subtler design elements help customers feel welcome. A series of undulating soffits add motion and draw people in, while a lighting truss hung below the large chandelier helps give the space a more human scale. Soft lilac walls and Brazilian tiger wood flooring give the store a warm and inviting glow. “The hard part was finding a light purple that had neither too much pink nor too much blue,” Posin says of the wall hue. Too much blue leaves people cold and too much pink can make men uncomfortable.

Large picture windows presented another design challenge. Gonda built a series of freestanding cases within the window space to give Seth a chance to create the same kind of award-winning displays he did for the narrow windows of the downtown store. Several museum-style cases showcase special jewelry — including items from an extensive heirloom jewelry collection — inside the store.

Every detail is part of what Posin calls his dream store, and he says he’s never regretted leaving downtown Wheeling. “I’m truly blessed to have my father come to work every day,” he says. “He’s taught me everything I know about the jewelry business and continues to teach our employees. Our store manager, Franni Schiffer, has been an absolute godsend. She and sales associate Ezra Hamilton make a formidable sales team.” And in the end, Posin adds, it’s neither store décor nor location that sets independent stores apart from the big chains. It’s people.

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Five Cool Things About Howard’s Diamond Center

1. ALL IN THE FAMILY. Shelby Posin didn’t live to see the store built, but her legacy lives on in everything from the logo she designed to her picture on the fireplace mantle. Meanwhile, Howard Posin still comes to work with his son, and Seth Posin’s sister-in-law, Kelley Rhodes Posin (a descendant of DeBeers founder Cecil Rhodes), also works in the store.

2. THE RIGHT LIGHT. Although LED lighting shows off the store’s fine jewelry within the cases, ceramic metal halide fixtures embedded in the soffits bring out the best in the diamonds once the gems are outside the cases. “Lighting for jewelry is much more critical than for any other merchandise,” store designer Gerry Gonda says. “You want the merchandise to look as good out of the case as in the case,” and the right lighting imparts the “sizzle” that drives price.

3. PURPLE REIGN. Seth Posin loves purple, in part because it’s one of the rarest colors in a diamond. The color scheme extends from the chandeliers and wall color to bright purple awnings outside. “In fact, our LED signs were late being installed, so to help customers find us we advertised ‘look for the purple awnings,’” Posin says. The color is also present in all print and television advertising.

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4. GOOD NEIGHBORS. Howard’s Diamond Center shares its small shopping center with a nail salon. Seth Posin says it is an inspired pairing, since “women who care about fingernails like to wear rings.”

5. THE ART OF DISPLAY. For the past two years, Watch and Jewelry Review magazine has held a nationwide contest for the best jewelry store window displays, and Howard’s Diamond Center won the contest both years. “Creative, elegant, and visually exciting window displays have been a hallmark of ours for 30 years,” says Seth Posin. Adds store designer Gonda, “Seth has a very good eye. His display windows are equal to anything I’ve ever seen.”

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“During the Christmas season, we promoted one-of-a-kind drusy quartz jewelry set in sterling silver. We called the promotion ‘Drusy Tuesday’ and offered a discount on drusy quartz jewelry every Tuesday in November and December,” says Seth Posin. “It was a fun and successful promotion that boosted sales on a slower day of the week, and allowed us the opportunity to spend more time with customers on the much busier weekends.”

We carry Lovelinks and Trollbeads periodically have trunk shows. “The trunk shows are a fun way to introduce new beads, offer specials that aren’t otherwise available, and to increase our exposure in the bead market,” says Seth Posin. “However, when it comes to trunk shows we believe the most important consideration is the customer experience. In order to provide a truly unique experience, we hired a local glass artist to create custom glass beads in our store. She set up her torches and melted the glass while crowds of customers watched from just a few feet away. She created custom beads and a memorable experience for everyone.”

Julie Fanselow is a writer, editor, coach, and dot-connector. She was the founding editor of SmartWork Media's magazine for eyecare professionals, INVISION.

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