By Janelle Moorison. Photos by JJ Kaplan
The town of Zionsville has attracted a variety of small business proprietors over the last four decades. The Town has overcome many challenges and changing economic landscapes during these years. In 1973, Richard Nixon had just been elected to a second term as president. The Vietnam War was officially ended with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. The United States was in the beginning of a recession that would last until 1975 – the most severe economic downturn since World War II. In New York, the first mobile cellular phone call was completed.
October 16, 1973, OPEC declared an oil embargo, unilaterally raising posted prices by seventeen percent to $3.65 per barrel, and announced cuts in oil production – actions that led to the Oil Crisis. Amidst the grim financial atmosphere that faced the nation, the quiet, rural town of Zionsville was a growing and welcoming climate for new businesses and artists such as Jewel Box Jewelers and Casalini Portraits.
Today, the Town has grown to a population of more than 14,160 (2010 census) supported by
several mature and new neighborhoods and a growing business community, giving JBJ and Casalini Portraits a reason to keep their established businesses in the heart of Zionsville.
Zionsville in 1973
Population (1970 census): 1,857
P.H. Sullivan Museum was founded in Zionsville
The Nation in 1973
World Series Champions: Oakland A’s
Superbowl VII: Miami Dolphins
NBA: New York Knicks
Fashion Icons: Raquel Welch and Pam Grier
TV Show: All in the Family
Time Magazine’s Man of the Year: John Sirica
Celebrity Death: Jim Croce and Bruce Lee
Billboard’s #1 Song: Me and Mrs. Jones-Billy Paul
Movies released: The Sting, The Exorcist, American Graffiti
Jewel Box Jewelers opened for business October 3, 1973. For nearly 29 it was Zionville’s only
jewelry store. Phillip Owens, principal owner of Jewel Box Jewelers, was one of the first businesses to sign a lease and open his doors in Boone Village. At that time, the town was mostly rural and in the midst of a building boom that would transform the quiet little bedroom community.
Before opening his jewelry store, Owens left his place of employment in Wisconsin and moved to Indiana. He spent some time riding along side his brother, Victor Owens, who was in carpet sales. Soon, the two brothers began selling costume jewelry to boutiques and beauty salons. Owens decided that he wanted to open a jewelry store and a permanent location in the town of Zionsville. His original location, at Boone Village, was in the space that houses Papa Murphy’s today. As business grew, he moved to the east side of the complex in what is currently, Brunchies.
In 1984, Owens had an opportunity to move his store to Main Street when the location at 100 South Main Street became available. Owens rented the space from the owner, Don Spees, until Spees retired and then Owens purchased the building where he has been for the last 29 years.
According to Owens, Main Street was vibrant and booming in the 1980s. The economy was headed towards a state of recovery under a new presidential administration. There was a diverse mix of businesses and retailers on Main Street. “Zionsville definitely had a variety of businesses,” Owens said. “There was more diversity amongst the retailers than what we have today. It was a good time to open a business, and to be in business as there was a lot of discretionary income. That was also before the internet and customers shopping online.”
Owens has followed his industry’s financial and other trends over the decades. Thick, nugget-style jewelry was popular in the 1970s. He noted that people brought in scrap jewelry to cast into chunky pieces of jewelry rather than to sell it for money. For many decades, yellow gold was the preferred metal until the new millennium. Turquoise became popular in the 1980s and Owens became one of the only jewelers in the greater metropolitan area to specialize in the repair of turquoise jewelry for customers and other jewelers.
Semi precious stones, jade and quartz were trendy in the 1990s. The jewelry industry saw a change of preference from yellow to white gold and platinum settings, primarily with engagement rings and wedding bands, in the 2000s. In the years following the Great Recession, that hit the nation hard in December of 2007 and took a particularly sharp downturn in 2008, the price of gold hit an all-time high in September of 2011. Gold reached $1,921 per troy ounce and people began selling their gold and scrap gold. Jewel Box Jewelers became one of the many jewelry stores who advertised, “We buy gold”. His adaptation to the ebb and flow of the market and customer demand has been essential in Owens’s business model.
As the years progressed, Owens expanded his inventory and his staff. His wife, Regina, is co-owner of the company and his brother, Victor Owens, has been with JBJ for nearly 20 years. Until recently, Victor was the only “in-house” bench jeweler in the general area. Owens hired his current store manager, Gale Sammons Welch, in August of 2001. In total, Jewel Box Jewelers employs three full-time and two part-time employees. For several years, they were the only jewelry store that had a full-time jeweler on-site.
Jewel Box Jewelers has built its reputation by providing exceptional customer service, expedited repairs and in-house custom designs. JBJ has its own proprietary watch line that is made with Swiss parts and is one of the only to be assembled in the United States.
The introduction and prevalence of internet sales has presented the most recent challenge for JBJ and others in the industry. “Our walk-in business has been hit by the internet and has certainly affected the way we do business,” Owens said. “We strive to give the best service that we can, quick repairs and to stay ahead of the curve with the current styles. We attend the jewelry show in Las Vegas, which is the largest in the world, and we hand pick the best of the lines. In cases such as Officina Bernardi, an Italian sterling silver line, and LaFonn, one of the fastest selling lines in the country, these lines are exclusive to our store within a 50-mile radius.”
Owens has selected these designers specifically for their affordability and high quality appeal. The sterling silver lines are platinum bonded or rhodium plated for longevity at a price point that attracts today’s buyers. JBJ is a designated retailer for the nationally renowned designer line, Simon G, who is most popular for its bridal and artisan jewelry.
Looking ahead to the future, Owens emphasized the importance of maintaining its level of exceptional service, and that selling is secondary to the firm’s philosophy. “We teach our staff not to push, but to help our customers,” Owens explained. “Our goal is to answer their questions but not overload them with information, and for us to build a relationship with our customers.”
While Owens predicts there will be fewer independent jewelers in the future – because it takes a substantial amount of capital, time to establish an inventory and the obvious competition from the internet – he believes that the existing and future jewelers will remain relevant if they focus on their service and provide unique lines at a variety of price points.
When asked what it means to be celebrating 40 years of business in the same town, Owens replied reflectively. “I never expected to be in business here for 40 years when I first opened,” Owens said. “It’s really nice when you look back on all the relationships that you’ve made and that they keep coming back to you after 40 years. It’s incredibly rewarding and it doesn’t happen in every line of business.”
Jewel Box Jewelers
100 S. Main Street, Zionsville, IN 46077