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Real Deal: The Case of the Golden Fleece

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[span class=alert]To be eligible for publication in INSTORE, responses must include your name, store name, and the city and state in which your store is located. [/span]

Jimmy Branch determined several years ago that while operating a jewelry store in a resort setting was a great way to earn a living, it also presented some unique challenges. The seasonal nature of the business was often disconcerting, and competing with the sunshine, local festivals and fishing charters was a lot tougher than simply going head to head with other jewelers. Choosing a relatively tame, upscale setting was a very sensible decision for Jimmy, though. After nearly 15 years on “The Island”, as the locals called it, he’d managed to get his business fairly well balanced, with nearly 35 percent of his annual volume coming from local, year-round residents, 40 percent from “snowbirds” – the group of condo and time-share owners who come back year after year, and the rest from the typical, seasonal, tourist trade.

Of all the people Jimmy encountered in his store, he enjoyed the snowbirds most of all. Over the years, he’d built strong relationships with many of them, and he looked forward to the beginning of each new season when they would arrive on the island, ready for sun and relaxation, and filled with stories of family and the North. To Jimmy’s dismay however, it seemed that in the past year or two, many of the regulars were spending less time on the island than they had in years past. With the economy in tough shape, expectations were that numbers would be down significantly this season, and all the local business people were bracing for the downturn. After a soft season in 2008, Jimmy was more anxious than ever before.

Jimmy believed that his survival in the offseason had been the result of the highly successful gold-buying events he ran in the store. His well-crafted and well-placed ads, combined with his great reputation for integrity brought sellers in droves, and with them, profits greater than he could ever have imagined. He made the decision to continue holding the bi-monthly events throughout the high season, and even designed an intensive marketing campaign aimed at the snowbirds who would soon be heading his way. He wanted to make sure they all knew that he too was available to buy their old treasures, and to see that they remembered to bring it all along when they headed south. The first event after the start of the season was his most successful to date, and was more like a party, with many of his “regulars” taking the opportunity to get re-acquainted after the long months away. It was so busy that Jimmy wasn’t even able to talk to everyone who came in! He was grateful for the help of a couple of friends from his research group who had come down to lend a hand.

Several weeks after the event, Jimmy was delighted to see Sonia Carrell come into the store. She and her husband John had been coming to the island every year for as long as he could remember, right up till last year. Jimmy had heard from neighbors that the Carrells had decided to stay in Maryland last winter, and while he spotted John very briefly at the buying event, he never quite got around to saying hello. As he greeted Sonia, Jimmy noticed that she looked rather tired and worn out. He got the usual rundown when he asked about her college-age son, her older daughter and their beautiful granddaughter, but was taken aback when he asked, “So, where’s John today?” Sonia replied, “I have no idea — but if you see him, let me know so I can leave the island!” The expression on Jimmy’s face must have conveyed his surprise, because Sonia said, “Oh – I’m sorry. I guess you haven’t heard…” She proceeded to tell him about John’s affair with a young assistant at his law firm, and a very ugly divorce that dragged on for over a year. She said that the worst of it was that in the middle of all the fighting, someone had broken into her house and stolen all of her jewelry and several pieces of expensive art. She believed that John was behind it — as a way to get back at her for demanding a hefty settlement — but neither she nor the local police could prove anything. She said that while her insurance covered the financial end of the loss, the sentimental value of many of the jewelry items could never be replaced. Jimmy helped Sonia pick out a new watch and diamond stud earrings, and let her know that he was very sorry for all she’d gone through. He reminded her that he would be available for whatever she needed while on the island and wished her well.

As soon as Sonia had pulled out of the parking lot, Jimmy went back through the receipts from the gold-buying events and felt his heart sink as he saw one with John Carrell’s name on it. He saw that one of his friends had taken care of John, who sold several gold bracelets, a couple single earrings, a pair of platinum wedding bands and a diamond fashion ring — for a total of $1,860. State law requires that merchandise bought over the counter remain in the store for a full 30 days before disposition, so Jimmy was able to look at the pieces in John’s envelope. Despite his sincere hope to the contrary, he was not surprised to find the envelope filled with pieces that he had sold to John over the years.

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Jimmy double checked all the documentation and was relieved to find that the transaction was handled perfectly and every detail was in compliance with state and local regulations. Nonetheless, the whole thing left him with a queasy, uncomfortable feeling, believing that he had some sort of responsibility to Sonia — but not knowing exactly what to do about it.

[h3][b]THE BIG QUESTIONS:[/b] Should Jimmy get involved at all? Is his obligation to John — one of confidentiality and the discretion promised to all of his clients — or is it to Sonia — one of friendship and integrity? He knows for certain that the pieces were sold to John, but he has no way of knowing for sure that Sonia’s story is anything more than just her side of an ugly tale. Is he obligated to notify the local or Maryland police of his suspicion, or should he let the rest of the 30-day waiting period expire, then dispose of the items, along with all the rest?[/h3]

Editor’s Note: Real Deal Scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The characters should not be confused with real people.

[span class=note]This story is from the June 2009 edition of INSTORE[/span]

[span class=alert]To be eligible for publication in INSTORE, responses must include your name, store name, and the city and state in which your store is located. [/span]

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