While diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, during a global pandemic they’re usually the last purchase on anyone’s mind.
“The jewelry business is always the first to get hurt and the last to recover during a crisis,” said David Cohen, owner of Boyer’s Diamonds of Williamsburg. “Jewelry will be the last thing people buy.”
Locally-owned jewelry stores in Williamsburg have felt the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic particularly hard not just because the retail stores have been closed for two months, but also because many people view their products as luxury items.
At Laney’s Diamonds and Jewelry, the family-owned business has seen many economic pitfalls since opening in Williamsburg in 1980. But this current economic crisis is different from anything the business has ever seen before, said Douglas McLeany, owner.
“This is a unique experience for all small business owners,” McLeany said. “From a small business perspective, you’re always concerned about the community you live in and as a community we’ll survive but it’s going to be tough.”
Wednesday was the business’ second day of operations after being able to open as part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s Phase 1 and in just a short amount of time, the business has shifted from selling jewelry to mainly fixing items and replacing watch batteries.
But even after more time has passed, McLeany said he doesn’t see business sales picking up in the near future.
“Before the pandemic, people were buying jewelry for special occasions and things,” he said. “And eventually we will go back to that, but the question is when and how quickly.”
At MN Jewelry in Williamsburg, manager Nathan Nguyen said while almost all of the shop’s retail has stopped, people are still coming into the store to sell their precious metals such as gold and silver.
Nguyen said he and his family are working to find new ways to connect with customers.
“We definitely are trying to push more online sales,” he said. “Especially now that people won’t want to leave home, some people might feel more comfortable looking at items online.”
Laney’s Diamonds and Jewelry has also launched a more directed effort at online marketing, McLeany said. The business now posts many items online and is considering doing video chats for customers to see customized pieces.
But even with that, the experience of selling and buying jewelry isn’t the same.
“As a family jeweler, we like to make the shopping experience personal and describe the benefits of various pieces,” he said. “But it’s hard to do that online for jewelry that might become important parts of people’s lives.”
Recently MN Jewelry launched a new line of engagement rings that’s designed to attract a younger clientele. While the amount of business has decreased, Nguyen said he hopes people will take this time to appreciate these luxury items that can hold great sentimental value.
“This business definitely takes a hit when money is tight but there’s also people who may have a different perspective on life as well during this time,” he said. “Life is kind of fragile so maybe that inspires them to take that jump and propose.”
But at Boyer’s, Cohen said he’s not sure how or when trends will again pick up. When customers come into the store, they are given a mask and the employees are wearing masks but that kind of atmosphere can make a person feel uncomfortable when shopping for something as important as an engagement ring.
The business has been operating since 1987 and Cohen said he’s learned a lot of economic lessons, but none of them apply to the current pandemic.
“This time, it’s not an economic problem, it’s a health problem,” he said. “Before, if you had a bad month, the next month could cover it. But now we don’t know when the next good month will be.”
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