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Underwood Jewelers will hold a sale at its Avenues mall store through Sept. 27, when it will close there.
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 1, 201612:00 PM EST

Underwood closing Avenues store

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Underwood Jewelers, citing changing shopping patterns among customers for its higher-end merchandise, will close its store at The Avenues mall Sept. 27 as its lease expires Sept. 30.

“This one doesn’t make sense anymore, so we are shutting it down,” said Underwood Jewelers President Clayton Bromberg.

Jacksonville-based Underwood Jewelers will focus on its remaining stores that operate in San Marco, Avondale and Ponte Vedra Beach near affluent clients.

“Malls are a very, very high cost place to operate and it’s our smallest store by volume by a long shot and it is no longer growing,” Bromberg said.

Underwood’s opened at The Avenues in 2010. It operates in a 1,100-square-foot space on the lower level at the center court.

Bromberg said Underwood’s sent letters to customers Thursday and Friday and distributed an email late Tuesday about the closing.

That email said the Avenues store’s closing sparks the company’s first storewide sale since 1996, when it closed its location at Regency Square Mall.

Bromberg said other than Rolex and David Yurman, merchandise at The Avenues mall store will be marked down 20 to 50 percent.

“We have no room for this inventory in our other three stores so it must be liquidated,” Bromberg said in the email.

It said the sale includes diamonds, designer jewelry, watches, pearls “and even our Waterford chandeliers,” but it will not be advertised other than through the mail and email to customers.

The Avenues store operates 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, longer hours than at the other locations, where Underwood’s opens at 10 a.m. but closes at 5:30 p.m. in town and at 6 p.m. at Ponte Vedra Beach. All four are closed Sunday.

Bromberg said he would speak with his store manager at The Avenues about whether it would open on Sundays through the end of the month for the sale.

He said the mall had asked if the store could remain open through the holidays, but the numbers didn’t work.

A Simon Property Group spokesman referred questions to Underwood’s.

Bromberg said the store was growing for the first 41/2 years “and then started going backward.”

He said enclosed malls no longer draw the traffic they did and the traffic they do draw no longer has the disposable income needed for higher-end stores like Underwood’s.

He considers The Avenues location near Interstates 295 and 95 as “one of the most valuable pieces of real estate you could ever find in North Florida.”

However, the internet and the advent of other retail alternatives, like nearby St. Johns Town Center, coupled with costs and shrinking margins are affecting companies like his.

“I don’t think the malls do for retailers what they did for them 20 years ago,” he said.

“If you look at the high end of jewelry business, you will look long and hard to find stores like ours operating in enclosed malls around the United States,” he said.

Enclosed malls face changing trends

Orlando-based retail business consultant Donn Carr said Wednesday he was not surprised with Underwood’s decision.

“The more affluent customer with more disposable income wants to be made to feel special,” he said.

That isn’t always the case in a mall environment, he said, where the collection of stores offer varying levels of service.

Through no fault of mall management, some retailers are providing a level of customer service that’s “worse than it’s ever been,” Carr said.

That means affluent customers might not flock to mid- or lower-tier malls or those with stores that don’t stress customer service.

In addition, department and specialty stores that anchor traditional enclosed malls are competing with Amazon.com, discount stores and fast-fashion retailers that provide inexpensive clothes for what could be considered disposable use, he said.

Also, because of the recession, people and families don’t have the disposable income they once had.

“And in the middle of that, that is where an Underwood’s maybe doesn’t fit,” Carr said.

He called Underwood’s “a good player and they have a good product and I’m sorry to see them leave.”

Carr’s more than 24 years of experience in the retail industry includes service as general manager at The Avenues, which he left about 2009. He spoke highly of landlord Simon Property Group, which also is co-owner of St. Johns Town Center.

He emphasized his comments were not specific to The Avenues but were global.

“There are so many moving parts,” he said. “There is not one smoking gun. There are many.”

The two-level Avenues was built in 1990 and was the affluent mall at the time. St. Johns Town Center opened its first phase in 2005.

Carr writes frequently about the retail industry and customer service at carrmg.com.

“I think malls will always serve a purpose but they are constantly repurposing themselves,” he said.

“Who knows what comes next?”

‘Plenty of growth’ for Underwood’s

Bromberg’s family business, Bromberg & Co., was founded 180 years ago in Alabama and is the oldest business in that state. It bought Jacksonville-based Underwood Jewelers in 1974.

Bromberg arrived in 1980 and became president in 1988. He’s based in Jacksonville at the flagship San Marco store.

Underwood’s at one time operated in the Gateway, Roosevelt, Orange Park and Regency Square malls, but left all of them to eventually focus on the neighborhood centers.

It also operated Downtown but closed there in 1993.

The four Underwood’s stores collectively employ about 45 people, and the seven workers at The Avenues will be relocated to other stores.

Underwood’s opened at The Avenues in 2010 because brands it carried wanted it to, Bromberg said. Another jewelry store that carried the brand had gone out of business. Underwood’s negotiated a six-year lease.

He doesn’t rule out opening in the popular St. Johns Town Center at Butler Boulevard and I-295, which has attracted retailers like Tiffany & Co., Nordstrom and Apple.

However, the brands sold at Underwood’s already are represented in the Town Center and they are not interested in creating a competitive environment there.

He said Underwood’s is keeping an eye on St. Johns County, west of the Intracoastal Waterway.

For now, he will focus on San Marco, Avondale and Ponte Vedra Beach.

“We think there is plenty of growth for us in North Florida with the three stores that we have,” he said.

[email protected]

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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