By Michelle Graff
Warwick, R.I.--The industry shrinkage recorded in 2014 has continued into the first quarter of this year, the latest statistics from the Jewelers Board of Trade show.

In the United States and Canada, a total of 250 retail jewelers/repairers, wholesalers and manufacturers ceased operations in the first three months of the year, up 40 percent from 179 in the first quarter of 2014.
Bankruptcies increased slightly, from 11 to 13, while consolidations were down considerably, from 54 in the first quarter 2014 to 28 in the first quarter 2015, a 48 percent drop.

In the U.S. alone, the number of retail jewelers, wholesalers and manufacturers that ceased operations was up 39 percent.

The most significant decline was in the number of wholesalers, with 35 ceasing operations, double the number that did so in the first quarter 2014. In addition, there were 191 retail jewelers that shut down in the first quarter, up 38 percent from 138 in the first quarter last year.

The JBT’s first quarter statistics continue a trend that began in 2014 and one that JBT President Dione Kenyon said they are seeing continue into the second quarter.

The trend is this: The jewelry industry in the U.S. and Canada is shrinking in size, with many discouraged by a still-sluggish economy, the difficulty of doing business today and with many family-owned institutions lacking a new generation waiting in the wings to take over the business.

Overall, the JBT’s total listings for the first quarter totaled 29,678, down nearly 3 percent from the same time last year.

Well-known names that announced their exit from the industry in the first quarter include Fragments, the showroom and retail store Janet Goldman opened in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood 30 years ago, and Samuel Gordon Jewelers in Oklahoma City, a 111-year-old business.

Goldman told National Jeweler that the rents in SoHo became untenable for her business, while 67-year-old Gary Gordon wanted to retire. His son, Dan, is in the jewelry business too but works at The Diamond Cellar in Columbus, Ohio.

More recent store closures include Towne Jewelers in Winston-Salem, N.C., which Ken Pope owns with this wife Marsha.

Towne has been in business since 1955; Ken Pope acquired the business from his uncle, Richard Pope, 15 years ago.

Today, the 53-year-old says, he’s just tired. “I’ve been at it for 15 years and it gets more and more difficult each year.”

There is also difficulty of finding qualified help, the competitive pressures brought on by an economy that, at least in the Winston-Salem area, has been “stagnant” since 2008, and the added duties the Internet has created, including the need to have and manage multiple social media accounts. “The jewelry store owner has to wear so many hats (today),” Pope says.

He added that he looked into selling the business but determined the best return on his investment in his inventory was to liquidate it.

Towne Jewelers is in the midst of conducting a going-out-of-business sale and will shut its doors when the inventory is gone. The exact date that will mark the store’s last in business hasn’t been determined yet.

As for Pope, he’s says he’s going to take a few months to regroup and then determine what the next chapter of his life holds. He doesn’t know at this point if it will include fine jewelry or not.  

“We’ll miss portions of it,” he says, when asked if he’ll miss the industry. “We’ll miss the customers. We won’t miss the tremendous responsibility that goes along with running a business.”

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.