By Michelle Graff
The store-closing sale at Watchmaker’s Diamonds & Jewelry in Johnstown, Pennsylvania started Nov. 7. Longtime owner J. Dennis Petimezas, who has owned the store since 1975, is retiring.
Johnstown, Pa.—After 45 years in the jewelry business, a career that began with an entry-level position at a chain store in Little Rock, Arkansas is winding down.

J. Dennis Petimezas, owner of Watchmaker’s Diamonds & Jewelry in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, announced earlier this month the store he has owned and operated since the mid-‘70s will close at the end of the year.

It’s a bittersweet moment for the longtime jeweler, who got into jewelry by accident one day while job hunting in his mid-20s.

20191119 Petimezas insertWatchmaker’s Diamonds & Jewelry owner J. Dennis Petimezas (center) will retire and close his Johnstown, Pennsylvania jewelry store at the end of the year.The 69-year-old Petimezas grew up in Little Rock, where his grandparents moved to after immigrating to the United States from Greece.

One day in 1974, a 24-year-old unemployed-but-nattily-attired Petimezas wandered into the Gordon’s Jewelers store in between job interviews to get his Cross pen refilled.

At that time, Gordon’s was the “powerhouse of chains,” as Petimezas put it.

It remained independent until 1989, when Zale Corp. acquired the Houston-based chain. Signet Jewelers Ltd. bought Zale in 2014 and still operates a handful of Gordon’s Jewelers stores today.

Apparently believing the suit he was wearing was an indication he had money, the salesman showed him a diamond ring, but Petimezas told him: “You’re showing the wrong man; I don’t even have a job.”

That soon changed. That particular Gordon’s store was hiring a porter, so Petimezas applied and got the job, running pieces between the store and the repair center for fixing.

He enrolled in both the manager course at Gordon’s and the GIA Diamonds course, and rose quickly up the ranks, supervising the turnaround of a store in Pine Bluff, Arkansas before heading north to open a new Gordon’s store in Johnstown, a town located about 70 miles east of Pittsburgh.

By mid-1975, Petimezas was ready to branch out on his own, going into business with Mike Rose, owner of Watchmakers Shop, which sold primarily timepieces.

Shortly thereafter, the jeweler used all the money he had to buy Rose out of the business, expanded the scope of the store and changed its named to Watchmaker’s Diamonds & Jewelry.

It wasn’t an easy time to be a jeweler, particularly in Western Pennsylvania, where the collapse of the coal and steel industries had left the area economically depressed and a flood decimated the town—again—in 1977.

(Johnstown has survived three major floods, in 1977, 1936 and 1889, which is typically the disaster people are talking about when they refer to the Johnstown flood.)

Petimezas credits his survival to continuing his education in the jewelry industry, his willingness to change and adapt, and GCAL founder and President Don Palmieri.

In fact, he credits Palmieri, whom he describes as a friend and mentor, with jump-starting his career in the industry. Palmieri did not charge him to grade the parcel of emeralds Petimezas sold to have the money he needed to buy a share in Rose’s store.

“If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have had the capital to buy into that business,” he said, noting that he’s turned to Palmieri for advice many times over the years.

Petimezas also is involved in numerous industry organizations, like the Pennsylvania Jewelers Association, and traveled to trade shows regularly to see what’s new and attend education sessions so he can learn from his peers.

“Every six or seven years, you have to assess: Where are you, and where is everybody else?,” he said. “You need to be where they are.”

That is, of course, until you decide you just don’t have one more reinvention left in you.

The Retirement Trigger
Petimezas said he first considered retiring in 2015 when he had his 65th birthday celebration.

He said the store did two months of business in nine hours. The sale was so successful—the “most unbelievable day,” he said—he temporarily shelved the idea of retiring.

But he knew the time was coming so he started working with professionals in the industry to lay the groundwork for retirement.

His “it’s-time” moment came during a trip to New York City with his wife, Dee Dee, in 2018.

One evening in the city, they were walking around in the Bryant Park area when a weather alert about a massive snowfall went out, seemingly sending the whole city to seek shelter.

But the Petimezases opted to stay out and then walk back to their hotel. They found themselves almost totally alone in New York City—a moment that is both rare and delightful—strolling through emptied streets as the first flakes began to fall.

“It was just such a perfect night and I thought, I got to make more nights like this, more times like this. It’s time to retire.”

Petimezas also knew if he wanted to continue in the business, then he’d have to reinvent himself again, bring in new concepts and product lines and take it to the next level in terms of technology.

“I weighed another investment to move forward again versus the return of that investment. My age, 69, also factored in,” he explained. “It is my time to retire.”

He decided 2019 would be his last year in business.

20191119 Watchmakers exterior NEWWhen Petimezas bought into Watchmaker’s Diamonds and Jewelry, the store was in the Galleria Mall. In 2002, he moved it to a free-standing building on Johnstown’s Scalp Avenue that was triple the size.

The store-closing sale at Watchmaker’s Diamonds and Jewelry started Nov. 7 and will continue through the end of the year.

Petimezas declined to say which company is conducting his going-out-of-business sale, but he did share that he has had one expression of interest from someone who actually wants to buy his business as well as multiple offers for jobs and to buy his building.

(He owns the shopping plaza in which his 3,000-square-foot store is located and has two tenants to whom he leases space.)

As for what he’ll do after, he joked that he’s going to go work for Dee Dee, sweeping the floors at the Johnstown beauty salon she owns.

But in reality, he knows he’s going to stay involved in the jewelry industry in some capacity.

“How do you not?” he asks. “What that capacity will be, I don’t know. But you can’t get out of this business when it’s in your blood.”

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