The Economy Hits Home

Whenever my watch battery needs to be changed, I head to Richard’s Jewelers in downtown Emmaus.  I suspect that Richard has the best prices around, but even if he didn’t, I would go there anyway.  Not only do I like to support local businesses when I can, but I like Richard’s Jewelers  It’s a small mom-and-pop outfit run by Richard himself, who’s owned the store for 45 years.

My watch went dead two months ago, and finally I got around to taking it to Richard’s.  As usual, when I walked through the door, the charming little bell chimed letting Richard know that he had a customer.  He came bustling out of his office as fast as his 74 year-old body would carry him.  I smiled and told him I needed a new watch battery.  Immediately, he set to work.

He’s slow as he goes and he told me that his fingers don’t work the way they used to due to rheumatism.  I wondered how long Richard’s could remain open with its owner aging.  I looked around the shop, which is full of knick-knacks.  Dust covers some of the older items, and the display cases are yellowed with age.  It’s hard to tell how old some of the jewelry is, but it’s pretty nonetheless.  Tools lie across the counter tops and the carpet is worn and old.  In fact, the place smells old.  It’s always looked like an antique even 11 years ago when I bought my high school class ring from Richard’s.

Richard told me about his wife Dorothy and his dog.  The “girl dog” passed away from a seizure, he tells me, wiping a tear from his eye.  He examined my watch battery for a moment and then searched for the right match.  When he found it, he came back and informed me that the battery went up a dollar in price.  Did I still want it?  Of course, I did.  Richard smiled a little, as if he thought I might storm out the door and never come back due to the increased price of watch batteries.

He tried to grab the battery, but it flipped out of his fingers.  My fingers aren’t what they used to be, he said apologetically.  Yet he grabbed the little bugger, slide it smoothly into my watch, and I was good to go. I informed him that I only get my watch batteries changed at Richard’s.  I didn’t want him to think that his rheumatism scared me away.  He smiled sadly and said that he wasn’t sure if he would be open in a year.  I already knew why, but I asked anyway.

The economy, he said, it’s killing my business.  At Christmas, the shop lost $17,000 in planned revenue alone.  I asked him where I’d get my watch batteries changed if he closed, and he shrugged his shoulders.  I paid for my battery, but Richard continued to talk.  He always likes to talk, but was particularly loquacious.  As it turns out, he started out selling class rings for Jostens.  Then 45 years ago, he and his wife decided to open their own shop, not only selling jewelry but repairing it as well.  He still sells class rings, changes watch batteries, and does a good deal of clock repairs, yet even Richard has fallen victim to the bad economy.

As he shared, I could see the struggle within this dear old man to close or not to close.  He and his wife keep discussing it; they can’t continue to lose money.  Richard figures he could get a job at another shop, at least for a few years, because he’s not ready to retire.  Even as he says it, I can tell he doesn’t believe it.  He knows and I know that once the store closes, he won’t get a job somewhere else.  He recounted to me the history of the store and mentioned that even if he sells the place, he won’t get much because of the lousy real estate market.  He sighed deeply and leaned back against a glass case.  Tears sat on the rim of my eyes, and I told him that I would pray.  I meant it and he know I meant it.

Then another customer came in as Richard started in a tirade about the $13,000 he pays a year for health care and how he doesn’t want socialized medicine like they have up in Canada.  Back to his normal self, I bid Richard adieu and took leave of his shop.  I looked down at my watch; Richard had even set it to the correct time.  I smiled to myself, in spite of my sadness.  You just can’t get that kind of customer service anywhere else, which is why I will continue to go to Richard’s Jeweler’s until he closes his doors.

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