NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> After nearly 50 years of doing business at 21 South State Street, Newtown Jewelers is closing its doors.
The last day of business is expected to be around March 18 when the store’s large iron safe is picked up and transferred to a jewelry store in Scranton.
“We’re closing up after a long, long, long run,” owner Cheryl Durr Smith tells a customer, who stopped by the store on Tuesday. “Look around,” she says. “We have lots of good things with good (sales) numbers on them.”
A few minutes later, a longtime customer stops by to give Cheryl a big hug. “I’m gonna miss you,” she says.
Cheryl points to a large antique wooden display cabinet that has been a fixture in the store for more than 47 years.
“We’re waiting for the guys from the American Legion. They’re going to move that today to the Legion Hall where it will be put to good use,” Cheryl tells her customer.
The cabinet has been a part of the store since her father took over the business in 1971. It’s unknown how long it’s been inside the store, which dates back to 1904 when LC Wetting opened the first jewelry store at 21 South State.
More recent customers will remember the towering case holding picture frames and larger sized items. But longer time customers would remember jeweler Harry Bunting using it to display his collection of clocks.
Newtown Veteran Jerry DeYoung, who was on hand to oversee the move with veteran Jim Casey, said the showpiece cabinet will be used to display American Legion Post artifacts and sports memorabilia at its hall on Linden Avenue.
DeYoung learned about the availability of the cabinet by happenstance during a chance meeting with Bill Smith who was on a gummy bear run to the grocery store.
“It is so great that it is going to the American Legion,” says Cheryl. “I’m glad it’s staying in Newtown. It’s been here for so long.”
The jewelry store has been more than a business to owners Cheryl and William Smith and their daughter, Sierra. It’s been their home away from home.
And when the three walk out of the front door for the last time later this month it’s going to be hard.
“It’s going to be very emotional,” said Cheryl. “I’m happy, but it’s a chapter - a huge chapter - that’s going to be ending. Lots of memories. Lots of customers. We’re going to miss them. They were awesome.”
Cheryl’s father, Carl Durr, who was working as a hand engraver with JE Caldwell, bought the store in 1971 from the widow of Harry Bunting who had operated CH Bunting Jewelers at 21 South State Street from 1922 until his death in 1970. After Durr acquired the store, he renamed it Carl J. Durr Jewelers.
Durr was active in the community serving as the president of the business association. He also lit the town’s Christmas tree wearing Colonial garb and chaired Welcome Day.
Durr operated the business through the 1970s and into the 1980s and 1990s when Newtown saw a rapid transformation from an agricultural to a suburban community with new shopping centers being built, new highways and the population growing.
Not wanting to give up a competitive advantage to the new shopping centers, Durr renamed the business The Newtown Jewelers in the 1980s and trademarked the name.
He also branched out from primarily estate and antique jewelry to handling watch repairs, bands and watch batteries.
As the community changed from mostly agriculture to residential suburb, so did the jewelry business.
“I had to bump it up a little, getting more gold than gold-filled jewelry,” said Cheryl, who joined her dad in the business when she was 16. “People who lived here earlier they would buy birthstones and synthetic rings because that’s what they could afford. Then people started coming in wanting a karat diamond. More people got wealthy. And more people started moving from the city to Bucks County. The whole area boomed.”
Cheryl was later joined in the business by her husband, Bill Smith, who began working at the store in 1986 after being laid off from his job. And when their daughter Sierra was old enough she became a regular at the store, too.
When Durr retired in 1998, Cheryl and Bill Smith took over the full operation of the store.
Between 1998 and today, they faced new challenges, including competition from the Internet, which took away what Bill called the store’s “bread and butter” - its watch business.
At the same time, they continued to see an increase in business from the influx of new people moving to the area. “It got busier,” said Smith. “But there’s a lot of stress and stress is not good.”
Among the many memories that stand out was when M. Night Shyamalan shot the movie “Signs” on State Street. In fact, the large Newtown Jewelers sign gracing their front window is a prop from the movie.
“We were the only business that they didn’t change the name,” said Cheryl. “They made this sign and I asked if we could keep it. What they did was they put it out under the canopy. It was in the movie for like five seconds.”
Prior to her father passing away last year at the age of 86, Cheryl and Bill decided it was time to close up shop and move on.
“It’s sad, but you can’t stay here forever,” said Cheryl. “There are too many stories about people who work so hard and then poof. One of them drops over. Life’s too short.”
Cheryl said her plans are to take the business on the road offering engravings, watch batteries and bands to residents living at local retirement and nursing homes, an idea that had her father’s blessing.
When asked if he’s ready for retirement, Bill smiles and says, “So I’m told. The boss said we’re retiring. I’m going along.”
All joking aside, Bill said he’s going to miss “the people ... And I’d like to thank them. Our lives are good because of them,” he said.
“We don’t get any work done because Bill talks to everybody,” interjects Cheryl. “He tells them where to go fishing. Our customers are like our close friends.
“We’ve taken care of generations. We’ve watched kids get married, then as moms and dads. And now their kids are having babies,” she said. “A lot of my customers have either passed away or have retired. Some are in Twining, some are in Pennswood.
“I’ll miss the guys coming in at Christmas,” she says with a broad smile. “They were always fun to wait on. We had a good time with the men. They’d come in, do their shopping, go out the door and they were happy guys.”
Longtime customer Patti Lovi said their legacy will live on long after the store has closed in the education Cheryl and Bill gave to their customers. “Now people know the difference in diamond grade. They educated people in what their choices are and why to consider A over B.”