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Jeweler still ticking after 30 years

(Published January 10, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

Nestled along a block of 12th Street NE just north of the main business district in Brookland is a little jewelry and watch shop that still does business the old-fashioned way. Watches are patiently repaired, rings are made by hand, and customers still get to talk to the man doing the work. Itís the type of small business that still believes "service" is the most important part of service industry.

Brookland Watch, Clock and Jewelry Clinic is home to Anthony Jewelers, which has been doing business in the neighborhood for 30 years.

"Most of the jewelry nowadays isnít being sold in the community -- now itís being sold in the malls," said William J. Anthony, the 60-year-old proprietor of the store. "The reason weíve been around so long is everyone knows that we do quality work and weíre concerned about families."

Mr. Anthony, as everyone calls him, sees his shop as part of what has made Brookland one of the most enduring and viable neighborhoods in the city, drawing residents of all races and economic levels to live there.

The words "quality" and "trust" are never far from Mr. Anthonyís lips when he talks about his business.

"We have always had quality businesses in this community," he said, "and Anthony Jewelers is one of those quality establishments."

Anthony knows about small businesses and how important they are to Brookland, as well as other neighborhoods. He was one of the founding members of the Brookland Business and Professionals Association, and he also helped start a community credit union to help businesses and residents of Brookland. That credit union no longer exists.

Anthony didnít start out intending to be a jeweler. In fact, the profession he studied ó accounting ó is a far cry from jewelry making. After a brief stint working the books for a transportation company, he decided to open a clothing store to try to make a better living. To supplement the clothing business, he decided to sell some jewelry in his shop. One thing led to another and, in 1970, Anthony ended up buying Hortonís Jewelry on 12th Street in Brookland.

Not being trained in jewelry-making or repair, he took courses in gemology, watch-making and repair and jewelry-making. He said that his most important training, however, came on the job over the past 30 years.

Anthonyís shop is just about the opposite of the slick prefabricated jewelry stores in suburban malls. There are no velvet-lined trays of rings and earrings to peruse, no carousels of watches to choose from. His front counter is only about six feet long and the front of his store can hold only about eight people at a time. Most of the work is done in the back room at two workbenches ó one for watches and one for jewelry. All the work is done by Anthony himself.

"Iíve had other employees," he said, "but I found I can do most of the work myself."

Anthony said he enjoys the one-on-one contact with his customers. When a woman comes in and asks him to take a look at a watch that isnít working, he asks her to wait, takes it back to the workbench and fiddles with its innards for a few minutes. After he reassembles it, he brings it back to the front counter and gives her the diagnosis: rust. He doesnít charge her for his time and she happily thanks him and walks out.

Anthony worries that this sort of personal service is becoming a thing of the past, as more and more retailers are taking up residence in suburban malls.

"The guys that are staying are older guys like me who have been around for 20, 30 years," he said. "The youth is no longer involved in direct trading. Thatís really jeopardizing communities."

Even Anthony tried moving to the suburbs once. In the early 1980s he moved his operation to Silver Spring to give it a go. It lasted only six months. He said he moved back because there wasnít a sense of a cohesive community there. He said that while he could have stayed and probably made more money, he moved back because he preferred serving the Brookland community. He said the neighborhood treats small businesses better than other places.

A businessman "is not going to get rich here," Anthony said, "but he can make a decent living and maintain a level of quality for him and his business."

But Anthony said his run as a businessman may be coming to a close soon, and one of the last remaining black-owned and operated jewelry stores in the District may close when he retires. He said Anthony Jewelers will be around "a couple of more years, unless we can pass it on to someone else."

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator