Jewelry stores try to hold onto the sparkle

Rachel Ramirez

The jewelry store closure rate of 4% clocked in at an all-time high in 2017. Oregon retailers didn’t buck the trend.

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Shreve & Co. shuttered its downtown Portland location due to sluggish sales last year. A few blocks away, Judith Arnell Jewelers is also preparing to close.

Jewelers attributed the closures to several factors.

Judith Arnell blames Portland’s homeless population. “My clients are afraid of coming downtown,” she says. “It’s scary because I often find excrement outside my shop and spit on my window.”

Arnell says revenue has declined each year for the past few years, making it difficult to pay rent and employee wages.

“My clients say the only reason they come downtown is because of my jewelry,” she says. “My selection is amazing, but people can’t see it because they’re afraid.”

Employees at Kassab Jewelers, next door, beg to differ. They say homeless people aren’t a problem since security officers check the block around-the-clock.

A changing market

To stay afloat in a changing industry, says Kassab Jewelers consultant Robert Simpson, jewelers need to rethink marketing and publicity strategies.

“It depends how you run your business,” he says. “We watched the industry change and [owner] Mr. Kassab is very savvy and flexible handling these changes.”

Kassab Jewelers recently hired designers who focus on young consumers and possess strong social media skills.

Brick and mortar woes

Manager Penny Kelly does say that brick and mortar retailers are economically challenged downtown. In the past two years, downtown retail stores such as Abercrombie and Fitch and Macy’s have shut down.

But other metrics are more promising. Pedestrian traffic in downtown Portland has increased by 41% since 2015.

Margulis Jewelers, the Pioneer Square store known for selling estate and vintage jewelry, has been in business for 85 years — and keeps on ticking.

“Finding a niche and having unique services are important business models,” owner David Margulis says.

The mall

Other jewelers say they do better in mall locations.

Kassab Jewelers’ location in Washington Square mall clocks higher sales than the downtown location. “We think it’s the cost of doing business downtown,” says Kelly. “Parking is an issue, too. People don’t want to come here to search and pay for parking.”

Online competition

According to Forbes, much of the growth in the jewelry industry comes from e-commerce. Online fashion jewelry sales are expected to grow, capturing 15% of the market by 2020.

Margulis says customers still like to come into stores to see how a necklace or rings looks on their hand or neck.

But a study has shown that consumer behavior is changing. Young people are less interested in fine jewelry, and in some cases, brick and mortar retailers serve merely as a showroom for consumers who then go online to find a better deal.

Ben Bridge Jeweler is adapting to this changing environment.

“We found success in blending online to physical store option, allowing our clients to have seamless access across both channels in the viewing, purchasing or return or exchange of jewelry,” manager David Surridge says.

Bright Society, an ecommerce startup, has recently launched a new platform to create a sharing economy solution. They create partnerships with jewelers nationwide, and offer a marketplace for sellers and consumers.

Staying put

Back in Portland, the few remaining jewelers say they have no plans to leave.

“We have the fortune of our business model being based on the ethics and integrity of the Bridge family themselves,” says Surridge. “It’s sad to me that jewelers are leaving downtown, because in my experience there has never been a better time to be in downtown Portland.” 

Rachel Ramirez is an Oregon Business intern.