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West Hollywood Retailer Finds Niche With Vintage Watches

Ken Jacobs’ love of collecting led to an unexpected career.





Ken Jacobs, who trained as a clinical psychologist, moved to Southern California for his internship and stayed to build a business, Wanna Buy A Watch?, around his fascination with vintage watches. Among a long list of celebs who’ve visited the West Hollywood store are Ellen Degeneres, Jeff Goldblum and Fred Savage. Jacobs was honored twice in INSTORE’s America’s Coolest Stores contest, once in 2002 and again with a new store in 2019, which won second place. “Design and aesthetics have driven my passion for the business from its inception,” he says. “We deal with a visual product, and the importance of an appealing store, appealing merchandise beautifully photographed and presented has always been a priority.”

Q&A with Ken Jacobs

How did the way you do business change in 2020, if it did?

We shifted to a by appointment only model. Reduced our store hours from five days to two days, and scheduling by appointment. It’s good for operating expenses, (two day a week security guard instead of five days.) Maybe not ideal for my employees, but a more efficient model going forward. Also it creates a sense of urgency or scarcity among customers “lucky” enough to get an appointment time. Customers are more focused and purposeful which creates a much more efficient time utilization model.

What do you enjoy most about your work life?

I enjoy the casual interaction, the ‘kibbitzing” and the appreciation customers show in what we do. I continue to be impressed with the very accomplished class of customers we have the luxury of meeting in our shop.

Do you have any hobbies?

Photography and hunting for cool vintage watches.

What’s the one thing you wish customers wouldn’t ask?

This is kind of specific to our vintage watch business. Box and papers on a vintage watch invariably adds considerably to it’s collectibility and value. So when you are writing very informative and detailed descriptions on your web copy, and include many photos, and the email question is, “Does it come with box and papers?,” as if we might have overlooked mentioning such a “minor” detail!

What is the absolute coolest thing about your Cool Store?

Customer’s have a “good time” at Wanna Buy A Watch?! Entering into a warm and comfortable vintage inspired space, having a vast selection of carefully curated vintage watches to view and handle, and having warm and friendly non commissioned sales people to engage with.

What’s so great about vintage watches?

Customers are amazed to walk in the store and see such an array of fine and distinctive vintage watches. There is an “amazement” factor which often precipitates “where do you get all these watches?” We deal in relatively scarce and unique products that are not found in a traditional watch or jewelry store, so our pieces are special, and to have so many of them that you can see and touch and try on is really quite a treat!

Do you have a favorite watch?

Too many to list! My personal collection is about 40-50 watches. Not necessarily all valuable, but all distinctive, and generally the “cream of the crop” condition wise.

Describe an ideal day off.

Having no work responsibilities and being outdoors enjoying nature and opportunities for photography. Not answering emails, not researching the value of watches, not researching and writing copy for our website, not managing employees, not dealing with repair issues with customer watches or dealing with the endless things that can fall through the cracks.

Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at [email protected].

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