John Kelly
John Kelly
Columnist

Family-run stores’ human touch is invaluable to the city

Walk with me into the Treasure Trove at 13th and G streets NW, a 66-year-old, family-run jewelry store trying to survive in the world of Kay and Jared and www.dirtcheapengagementrings.com.

At the counter is a woman who wants to make a payment on a layaway item. More than two years ago, she saw a piece of jewelry that she liked in the Treasure Trove’s glittering display cases and put a little money down. Now, every month or so, she comes in and hands over $10 or $20. She no longer has her slip outlining the details of the arrangement, but Marc Broder has the store’s copy. He goes into the back, fetches a box full of slips and pulls hers out.

(John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST) - Marc, left, and David Broder, co-owners of the Treasure Trove on G Street NW.

The woman takes some bills from her wallet, and Marc subtracts them from the total on the slip, putting her that much closer to her bauble.

It’s a curiously antique interaction. Some might think it’s an obsolete one. Shouldn’t the woman just get a credit card and charge whatever she likes? It may be both those things, but what I see is a human interaction.

How much is an interaction like that worth to a city and its residents? Impossible to measure, I suppose.

Marc’s father, Jerry, opened the store in 1946. Today it’s owned by Marc and his brother, David. David’s wife, Susan, works there, too.

Jewelry stores have an especially tough time these days. Once, gold in its myriad forms made up the bulk of the Treasure Trove’s profits. But the price of gold has tripled in the past five years, pricing it out of many customers’ budgets.

The store can’t put gold on sale — it is what it is, at a price that’s set far from G Street — nor do they want to move to gold-plated jewelry or the flimsy, hollow gold items found at department stores.

“You don’t want to lower your standards and start selling crap,” David says. “That whole category is gone. . . . We’re buying much more gold than we’re selling.”

The store had a pretty good 2011, David says, with revenue up by nearly 20 percent, but every day is a challenge. With gold largely out of the picture, they’ve focused on engagement rings. They don’t have a huge inventory of loose diamonds, instead working with a customer to decide what he or she wants, then getting a selection of gems FedExed from New York.

They have a Web site — for information, not online ordering — but they’ve found that as the Web giveth, it also taketh away. Many shoppers rely on customer-review sites such as Yelp and Google. David said his store had a lot of positive reviews on Yelp, but then Yelp’s filtering software decided the good reviews were suspicious and took them down. Now they’re left with mostly negative Yelp reviews. (On the other hand, the store’s Google reviews are mainly positive.)

I think what must be most galling to small retailers is how some customers use them almost as fitting rooms. At the Treasure Trove, that happens with watches. Some people come in and try them on until they find one they like.

“Then they go back to their office and order online,” David says.

“They have to see it in person, just to see if they like it,” says Marc.

The really gutsy come into the Treasure Trove later to get the watch strap altered or have the battery replaced.

We lose something if places like the Treasure Trove disappear — or Bensons Jewelers, a block away on F Street, or Fahrney’s Pens, down the street from Bensons. We lose a downtown streetscape that isn’t an endless procession of banks and chain eateries. And we lose relationships like the one between that woman paying down her bracelet and the store that’s happy to see her every month.

Sister power

Before our Children’s Hospital campaign fades from memory, there’s one group I wanted to be sure to mention. The Bradburn Sisters of Bradburn Memorial Church in District Heights vowed to raise money in honor of Marie Dennis, one of their members and mother of pastor Paul Dennis. Before she passed away in October, Marie suggested that Children’s be the beneficiary. The group members set a goal of $500. They raised a whopping $1,505.67. Thank you.

kellyj@washpost.com

For previous columns by John Kelly, go to postlocal.com.

 
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