“You just never know what people are going to buy,” Irene Price says as she stands behind the counter at Landis Jewelers in downtown Frederick, Md.
It’s Christmas Eve, and fat snowflakes are falling onto South Market Street outside.
“Like stick pins,” Irene continues. “Stick pins have been out for a while, since about the ’80s, but we sold them this Christmas.”
“We can’t remember how they even got in the store, who bought them,” says David Bogush, Irene’s boss.
“We had stuck ’em in a drawer, and David pulled ’em out,” Irene says.
“I don’t know how many years they were in that drawer,” David says.
Freed from their slumber, the gold-plated, monogram stick pins are a steal at 50 cents each.
Landis Jewelers opened in 1893. Still in the same family — David’s wife, Kathryn Landis-Bogush is the great-great-granddaughter of founder Henry S. Landis — it’s the oldest continually operating business in downtown Frederick.
At least until it closes Tuesday. I’m visiting to hear about 120 years in the jewelry trade.
“Over the years, I would say we’ve been more of a middle-class store,” David says. “We’ve never been high-end.”
Landis was the place to go for a nice gift for Mom, for your girlfriend, for your wife, for your graduate.
“Cross pen-and-pencil sets,” David says. “That was another one that sold well.”
“We used to sell Cross and, years ago, Parker,” Irene says. “Cross was much nicer.”
“Stainless steel, gold-filled, 14-karat,” David says. “It’s a nice heavy pen, but you don’t see them today. I haven’t used mine in years. I’m not so sure where to go for refills.”
There were electric shavers, too: Norelco, Remington.
And watches. There was a time when the store employed a half-dozen watch repairmen, fixing customers’ Bulovas, Hamiltons and Wittnauers. (“Neither of my sons has a watch,” David says.)
“When I first came to work, it was nothing to sell sterling silver flatware,” Irene says.
That was in 1960. Irene was 18.
“Over there where the United Way is, that was a drugstore,” Irene says, sketching a mental map of a vanished Market Street. “There was a bar, an Army surplus, a dry cleaners and a dime store on this side. All that’s gone. Down where the tattoo shop is, that was a hardware store. Sears used to be over there where the Trail House is. Where Brewer’s Alley is, that was a movie theater.”
Brewer’s Alley is a brewpub, and if there’s anything that’s changed the face of downtown Frederick, it’s the proliferation of restaurants. The town has become a foodie destination. There are lots of antique stores, too.
“The locals get upset because we’re becoming another Georgetown,” David says. “That’s just the way things have evolved.”
He’s not bitter about closing the jewelry store. A touch sad, maybe, but just a touch. The business has changed. Every department store sells jewelry. Every mall has a Kay. Don’t forget the Internet.
“There’s a lot of people would rather stay home and watch QVC,” Irene says.
And there’s no denying that downtown Frederick is doing rather well, unlike in the 1980s when there were many shuttered storefronts.
“We have people coming in here asking if we know any place they can rent,” Irene says. “We just had a guy in here the other day. He wanted a flower shop. And what was that other one? Jimmy John’s?”
“They were looking to put a sub shop downtown, but they couldn’t find any open store,” David says.
His wife’s family still owns the Landis building. David says in March a new tenant will move in to sell antiques and estate jewelry.
The going-out-of-business sale has gradually emptied Landis’s display cabinets. There are the stick pins, a few rings and necklaces, some MedicAlert bracelets and Masonic car badges, a rotating case of Speidel watch bands. The decorative fixtures are for sale, too.
“We had a whole case of scarab jewelry at one time, in the ’70s and ’80s,” David says. “That was really popular. Today, you don’t see scarabs anywhere.”
“Jewelry’s like clothes,” Irene says. “It comes and goes.”
The scarabs will return. Landis just won’t be around to sell them. One thing will remain, though: Set into the sidewalk out front, like some relic from Pompeii, is a mosaic. It’s the word “Landis” emblazoned across a pocket watch, something as obsolete to us now as a wristwatch is to the iPhone generation, and the iPhone will be to whatever comes next.
You don’t need a watch to tell you that time’s passage is inexorable.
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