Monday, October 1, 2012

Small Business Spotlight: Sheppard's Jewelry Roanoke

Small Business Spotlight

by Judy Awbrey


Judy Sheppard Awbrey is the owner of Sheppard’s jewelry store in Roanoke. She took time to write a brief history of the store her parents opened in 1938 to share with Lake Wedowee Life recently. The following is in her own words.

Russell / Sheppard Jewelers began business on May 10, 1938 in a small building next to the Roanoke Leader building on Chestnut Street in Roanoke. Hillis Sheppard and his bride, Merle, came from Lanett and bought a watch repair shop from the Moore estate. Hillis being only 19 years old at the time could not buy merchandise for his business due to his age, therefore it was Russell Sheppard  until 1940 when Sheppard turned 21. Hillis would catch the train in Roanoke and go to Atlanta to buy materials for his little repair shop and would buy whatever he could in watches to resale.

When Hillis joined the marines, his wife Merle kept the business going with a small line of jewelry added that was being sent from a wholesaler in Chicago. She would send a money order and the company would send her whatever they had available that would accommodate her money. When Hillis came back from the marines in the late 1940s, the business began to grow.

In the early 1950s, the couple lost everything in the business due to a Sunday afternoon fire. Starting over was difficult, but they were determined not to give up. They had a son and a daughter to raise.

The fire forced them to  relocate the business and they decided to try their luck on Main Street. They rented a small space in the Martin Theatre building and added gift lines to their business. Weddings were becoming a big deal and they could help young couples with their wedding rings and dinnerware for their first home. They had evolved into a full line jeweler by then and was able to furnish jewelry to all ages from newborn baby gifts to great grandmother rings. They even had a call every now and then for a piece of jewelry for a departed soul.

During the mid 1960s, Merle decided it was time to expand their gift lines even more and they decided to make another move to a larger building on Main Street, the old City Bank Building at the corner of Knight Avenue and Main Street.

Hillis had his watch repair bench in the back of the store and Merle kept the front going with bridal registry and gift items. Everybody wanted a pretty table setting of fine china, crystal and sterling flatware. The pieces were considerably less than now. When Mark and I married in 1967 our sterling flatware teaspoon was around $5 compared to today’s price of $100 for the same teaspoon. A stem of Fostoria crystal was about $1.25 back then and while the company went out of business nearly 30 years ago, you can still find their stemware but not for that price. The $1.25 stem now sells for roughly $25.

I came back to work full time at the store in 1969. Mama had some health problems and I felt I needed to do what I could to help them. They had given so much of their lives so that Aaron, my brother and I could have a good life growing up in small town. Aaron and his family were living in Decatur, GA and I was here in Roanoke. I knew about the jewelry store because I had been raised in the store. (I still have the showcase in the store where I took my afternoon nap as a little girl underneath it.)

Jewelry through the years has not changed that much. It goes in cycles. Yellow gold jewelry was a big thing the 70s and 80s. Everybody wanted a pretty gold chain to wear and gold was approximately $25 an ounce, so most people could afford to put one on layaway. Layaway was a big thing back then. People would begin putting items on layaway in June to have it paid out by December. I have seen the time when we would have 200 or more layaways in the store at one time.

Christmas was always crazy. Mother and I would go to the store on Thanksgiving afternoon to decorate the store for Christmas and put out the seasonal gifts. The Friday after Thanksgiving was always a big day for shoppers. We could usually judge how the season was going to be by that one day of shopping. WE would get home around 10 p.m. that night and be ready the next morning to go again.

In 1980 Daddy became ill. One day, Daddy was at the repair bench and I heard him crying. Went to the back to see about him and he didn't know how to put the watch he was working on back together. We called a cousin that had a jewelry store in West Point and he came and fixed the watch for us. That was the end of our in store watch repair service. For several years we sent watch repair to this cousin, until he retired at the age of 80. Daddy a short time later was diagnosed with Alzheimer and he died in 1998. When Mama and Daddy celebrated their gold wedding anniversary they decide it was time to retire. In 1984 I became one of the owners of the store. It changed from D. H. Sheppard Jeweler to Sheppard's. An opportunity came in 1990 to buy the building where we are now located and move the store, which we did. We opened in our present location on November 1, 1991. Increasing the gift lines and offering more items of fine jewelry, we had our own in house jewelry repair and were able to turn around a repaired item in a day or so, which helped our business.

In May 2011 Mark and I became owners of Sheppard's. We have changed several things since becoming the owners and it is still a work in progress. Although we don't do as much repair in the store, we still do some with a return time of 3 to 5 days.

Jewelry has always been a part of our lives. We've seen many changes through the years. A normal cycle of style is about ten to fifteen years from shite gold to yellow gold. There is always something new and different looking coming our so that people will keep buying or remounting what they have, but here is always one piece that person will always remember having. It could be an heirloom form a grandparent or a piece that was bought on a special trip.

In the 50s and 60s everybody wanted silver serving pieces, the 80s and 90s they wanted crystal because the silver was too hard to keep clean and now it is a world of acrylic servers. Our lines have changed through the years to suit our customer needs.

My parents would not believe how the store is now and all the different items that we carry. You can still buy that first piece of jewelry for a newborn and a piece of great grandmother, but in between is a different world with vinyl monograms, acrylic serving pieces, monogrammed bags and more. Like my Daddy always said, “For a gift you give with pride, let Sheppard's be your guide. “

Buying has changed a lot through the years. In the earlier days an opening order from a company might be $20.00 to $50.00. Today companies require anywhere from $250.00 to $30,000.00. A lot of companies do not want to fool with small businesses, they seem to forget we are the ones that them where they are today.



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