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Claire Baiz: Oh, Manhattan

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Claire Baiz stocked up in Vegas. But she still couldn’t resist the siren call of new york.

TUESDAY, JULY 11
PROLOGUE: NEW YORK, NEW YORK

I have no good reason to go. I picked enough inventory at JCK. I wrote a Las Vegas ?diary? for INSTORE, connected with vendors, and accepted that I was not going to New York this year. 

But I’ve been having upper tummy tightenings, the kind of feelings you get when you misplace something important.
?What have I forgotten?? I asked myself after returning from Vegas.  

When I got the slick JA/NY brochure with the Flatiron Building on the cover, my gut did the Fosbury Flop. 
I realized what it was; I had misplaced Manhattan.

JA/NY should be right there between Independence Day and Labor Day, an annual pilgrimage. It dawned on me there would be no glass-roofed Javitz center, no Broadway show, no dashing across the street to the Copa, no great little restaurant in the Village. In a moment of weakness, I even started longing for the crush of tourists in Times Square and the sound of squealing subway cars. 

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I tried repressing my Big Apple craving with frozen bagels and season five of Sex & the City on DVD. But every few days I’d get another flyer, which I’d tuck in the recycling bin under my desk, where I’d end up seeing it every time I sat down. 

I love Manhattan. In L.A., visitors rent cars and drive three miles just to get to the hotel bathroom. In New York, everything’s on your nightstand: the Whitney Museum, the old Plaza Hotel, the BellyDelly Deli. New York is a panoramic smorgasbord of sensory delights and assaults. Thinking it over one night in bed, I rolled over, almost groaned with relief, and registered for the show. 

MONDAY, JULY 24
PRE-SHOW PREPARATIONS

Proposed new corollary to ?Murphy’s Law?: several days before a trip, it is inevitable that sick people will be attracted to a traveler as if she was exuding some exotic pheromone that says, ?Infect me.? 

My mother shows up at the shop sounding as gravelly as long forgotten Senator Everett Dirksen. My daughter Sam, who will be joining me in New York, points to one side of her throat and asks, ?Got any vitamin C, Mom??  

Horror. I race to the kitchen and prepare a glass of ?Airborne? ? a herbal remedy concocted to arrest bugs before they are sentenced to life terms in your respiratory tract. You can tell when it’s ready: it looks like something that has been gulped and gargled previously. I’m steely-eyed, the fizzy yellow glass of liquid sweats condensation on my desk. I guzzle its contents like an offering, hoping to stay well for the show. 

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FRIDAY, JULY 28
IN TRANSIT

I’ve had six climate changes and I’ve only gotten as far as Salt Lake City. In Great Falls, MT, at 5 a.m., it was positively balmy. The blast of cold at the airport felt like a jolt of java. Upstairs, the temperature was a good 15 degrees warmer than check-in ? I fanned myself with my boarding pass, carefully peeling off socially acceptable layers. Before the Delta jet pressurizes, it’s stifling, but soon the ice-cold, recirculated, germ-infested air is blowing on my head with astounding velocity. I recall seeing smiling Swedes on television, rolling in the snow and then sweating in the sauna, but with apologies to Nordic types, how could this possibly be healthy? 

SATURDAY, JULY 29
ARRIVAL

We’ve arrived. And we’re shopping. 

Here’s a thought I had while pondering my greatest temptation ? shoes ? at Century 21, a department store that bills itself as ?New York’s Best-Kept Secret?:  

The desirability of fine shoes is inversely proportionate to diamonds. With diamonds, the bigger the better. In shoes, a size five or six is adorable, but in a size 10 it seems there should be outboards bolted to the heels. 

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SUNDAY, JULY 30
AT THE JA/NY SHOW

The cost of airfare and hotel in New York: $1,600. The credibility of having an article in INSTORE: priceless. 
The first jeweler I talk to in line for the shuttle had read my Vegas Diary. Bang ? instant credibility. Mark Coleman is a ? prepare to be impressed ? sixth-generation jeweler. (His family sold jewelry in Europe before emigrating.) He is also, I quickly learn, an arms dealer ? or, sorry, an ARMS dealer, short for Advanced Management Retail System, a point-of-sale system integrated with its own stock-balancing strategy. 

Mark is passionate about ARMS. ?It’s like finding religion,? he told me. And, in fact, I do feel a little like I’m trapped in a Scientology lecture, the guy is so fervent. And Mark seems to have a good reason to shout ?Hallelujah!? ? his business has quadrupled since beginning ARMS. Even his vendors, who were at first leery, have come into the fold. 

But I’m a harder sell. Owning a small-town jewelry store offers unique challenges. The classics and store-signature pieces are one thing, but in Montana the universe collapses like a bad science-fiction film if two local women wear the same designer jewelry to the symphony luncheon. When I sell a Tahitian-pearl pav? bypass bracelet, I darn well better remember who I sold it to, and I’d better not move another one within two social rungs and/or a hundred-mile radius. 

Buying finished jewelry is a never-ending stress-fest. I dodge some wonderful vendors this first day of JA/NY. I wish I could stop to visit, but I have sold through their line (see the small-town jeweler conundrum above), or the new collection just doesn’t light my fire. I have a hard time buying fast sellers that I don’t personally like. Mark Coleman convinced me I could be wrong, but like a smoker ignoring the Surgeon General’s report, I can’t stop lighting up. 

My strategy is simple: I picture my customer, first wearing a potential inventory item with a strapless evening gown, and again with a floppy sweatshirt and jeans. If the jewelry is priced well and it works well with both outfits, it’s a possibility. I only break this rule when I’m absolutely overwhelmed by a piece, because the mistakes tend to live extremely long and lonely lives in my display cases. 

From LeVian to Overnight Mountings, Kirk Kara to Dinaro, micropav? is still everywhere. The delicate sparkles are often offset by large color ? any color. This is a hopeful sign. By the time micropav? trickles its way from ideal-cut diamond semi-mounts in the Couture Collection to Thai-cut yellow sapphires over lemon quartz, like a cold that ends with a persistent cough, the trend may be saturated. 

The wispy looks of last year are juxtaposed with larger ornaments?there’s lots of playing with scale. Big rocks, small pave.  
Tiny linked ?uber-long? necklaces with big dangles. Even Mastolini had a six-foot endless strand of Tahitian pearls knotted flapper-style, front and center. 

MONDAY, JULY 31
AT THE JA/NY SHOW

Last year there was a smattering of unusual color gold alloys upstairs, but this year, it’s on the main floor. There is definitely more black and rose gold.  

A global warming of alloy hues is hitting Montana: my daughter, a college senior and lifelong self-purchaser of white metals, has a newfound appreciation for yellow and rose gold?especially as gifts from her boyfriend. Maybe the yellow versus white pendulum has swung for the last time, and like skirt length, alloy color will become a question of personal taste, giving retailers the chance to fill our customers’ jewelry wardrobes with an array of flattering options. 

This is the first time my daughter has attended a trade show. I have her on my payroll as a holiday temp. As an advertising major at Indiana University, she’s also my marketing consultant. I can’t help fantasizing about a future ?family business? as my daughter drools over a 21-carat pav? diamond ring from La Reina Collection, and rifles joyfully through $150 estate buckets. I comment to her that there are a lot worse ways in the world to make a living than owning a jewelry store, and she replies, ?Yeah, most of them.? My heart thumps joyfully. 

Sam is wide-eyed when she tries on an 11-carat emerald-cut diamond engagement ring, as I wonder whether the bar is being set a little too high for the poor guy who will one day pop the question to my daughter.  

The first day was crowded. Today, the crowds have thinned, especially downstairs, and vendors have retreated to the backs of booths. I can’t help but wonder if it’s the jewelry or the free lunch attracting buyers upstairs to the Couture Collection. I scan passing badges in the buffet line: all East Coast, a few Canadians.  

A badge from Louisiana piques my interest?like me, they are a long way from home. George Ibert and his wife own a retail store just north of New Orleans. What would you do if your store barely escaped destruction, your demographics were in total flux, and hurricane season was here again? Heck, I’d go to New York, see some shows, eat out, and walk the aisles in a tax-deductible daze, hoping my karmic burden was fully paid. I wasn’t far off: this couple had a great Sunday brunch at the Iridium Jazz Club, loved Mamma Mia!, and were glad to have missed the frenzy of JCK/Vegas.  

TUESDAY, AUGUST 1
AT THE JA/NY SHOW

Not many JA attendees have a $60,000 budget that doesn’t include gems or jewelry. David Rule and his partner Nancy Savoie of Pine Glen Jewellery drove down from New Brunswick, Canada to finalize the purchase of at least one laser welder. David’s six-year decision curve probably drove sales reps to drug use, but today David is ready for the laser welder of his dreams. Adding to his leverage, a friend impressed by David’s six years of research authorized him to purchase a second welder if the manufacturer would sweeten the deal.  

I’ll follow up with a phone call this month to see if David took the plunge into the 21st century. (Then, maybe, I’ll call again in six years to see where he stands on CAD.) 

There are two kinds of vegetarians and Sam and I are the bad kind. With four places to buy salads, you’d think we could find one without meat. I refuse to pay for chicken, only to be required to pluck it from the plastic tub with my thumb and forefinger. So Sam and I settle on splitting a slightly soggy mozzarella sandwich and a chocolate bomb that weighed half a pound and should have come with a fuse.  

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 2
GOING HOME

The universe often punishes me for taking time away from the shop, but usually the punishment waits until I get home. Not today. Before I spot the lady on the Canada Air jet with the dog carrier, I smell the dog. 

My first instinct when I see that it’s sitting next to me is to curl back my lips and hiss. I restrain myself for fear of being escorted off the plane and placed in a mental institution. The dog urinates before take-off, defecates mid flight, and yips the entire time. I didn’t even care that my air vent was frigid: it blew the odors away and drowned out some of the yips. 
It’s hard to concentrate while worrying that, on arriving home, my cats may mistake me for an incontinent beagle.  

THURSDAY, AUGUST 3
EPILGOGUE: POST-SHOW LESSONS

Here’s a top-10 list to help fellow jewelers enjoy future JA/NY shows: 

10. Don’t head for Times Square on a hot summer night. I understand humans are social creatures, but anything that causes us to swarm devalues our species. Like mayonnaise, we are more appealing when spread thinly, and unappetizing in large globs. 

9. Get the cross streets, and stand on the correct side of the street for your taxi ride. New York cabbies don’t know addresses or restaurants any more than they could guess your mother’s maiden name.  

8. Don’t buy goods the first day of the show. I once made the mistake of ordering adorable earrings from an exclusive designer and walking by the Stuller booth the next day to find a nearly identical pair at a third of the price.  

7. Don’t pass more than three delis without eating. (Chain delis don’t count). The New York experience is not complete without ?carbs from many cultures? … sold by the pound. 

6. Add a $150 round-trip cab fare if you fly into Newark. It’s about the same distance from Manhattan as JFK, but cabbies aren’t allowed to pick up return fares if they cross the NY/NJ state line. An empty taxi returns on your dime. And if you leave at 5 a.m., as I did, shuttle drivers are still in their beds. 

5. Stay on or near Times Square. JA’s rates were better than the discount travel sites I checked, and you’re just a few steps away from Broadway, the Rockefeller Center, MOMA, and flagship jewelry st7ores (to case the competition). 

4. Bring money, lots of it. Breakfast for two at Roxy’s, $50. A quick lunch at the BellyDelly Deli, $30. A simple dinner at The Spotted Pig, $120. Sam spent $170 at Century 21, though her receipt kindly noted she ?saved $370.10?. The JA shuttle is free, but dinners out wearing our gorgeous, new (other adjectives that come to mind are ?painful? and ?inappropriate?) shoes meant cab fares every night. 

3. If you can eat it, buy it, or see it at home, don’t waste time with it in New York. I’m tempted to nail up rough boards in an ?X? across Applebee’s entrance, and tell folks at the Hershey Store, ?Here’s two bucks, buy a black and white cookie at the deli. Bite that Big Apple, baby!? 

2. Book a couple of extra nights?JA rates are good before and after the show. Unless you have a subtle indoctrination agenda (for instance, my ?family store? fantasy), have your family join you either before or after the show. Come alone, work hard, and then have your family or friends join you.  

1. Do something that would make your mother proud: spend a day visiting Ellis Island. Many of us can trace our families back to this symbolic spot. Push open the imposing doors, study the photographs, touch the walls. Imagine the sacrifice, think of your great-grandfather, and kiss the ground you walk on as soon as you get home.

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