If holiday sales figures at Downtown jewelry stores are an indicator, the economy — at least in Jacksonville — appears to be maintaining its slow but steady improvement.
Jacobs Jewelers has been in business in Jacksonville since 1890. The store moved in 1930 to its current location at Adams and Laura streets.
Roy Thomas, who has been in the fine jewelry business Downtown since 1960, when he leased a space in the May-Cohens department store, bought Jacobs in 1968.
As a purveyor of luxury items, he has seen the ups and downs of the economy. While some of his clientele is immune to a downturn in the economy, the level of disposable income and overall consumer confidence can have a bearing on annual sales.
After a sluggish economy the past four or five years, there seems to be a trend toward recovery, he said, particularly during the holiday season. That’s key for retailers who count on ringing up as much as half of their profit for the year.
Customers — some of them third- and fourth-generation — are buying necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets, pendants, wristwatches, crystal and porcelain.
“Compared to last year, this year is a little better,” he said. “But it would be nice to go back to the way it was in 2005 and 2006.”
Soon after the holiday shopping season began, the National Retail Federation estimated that more than $600 billion would be spent at retail and online stores this year. The organization also predicted that the 2014 holiday shopping season would be driven by consumers taking advantage of sales promotions.
Juan Gonzalez, owner of Hemming Plaza Jewelers along Hogan Street and a Downtown jeweler since 2003, launched a “12 days of Christmas” promotion on social media and the store’s website. The promotion featured a different item each day, some at low price points, including $6.95 for pearl earrings.
“That brought in a lot of people who bought stocking stuffers,” said Gonzalez.
He agreed with Thomas that this year’s sales are at least keeping pace with last year’s.
“I think we’ll hit our target,” Gonzalez said. “We have seen a steady stream of regular customers who are buying the big-ticket items.”
Barnett Jewelers owner Bill Barnett Sr. said Thursday holiday sales at the store at Wells Fargo Center are more than keeping pace with 2013.
“Christmas has really been strong. We are a little ahead of last year at this time,” he said.
With several fine jewelry stores Downtown within walking distance of each other, it’s easy for customers to compare items and prices.
“Downtown is very competitive,” he said.
One jewelry store owner isn’t seeing sales comparable to last holiday season, but she thinks it might have more to do with her location than the economy.
Michelle Rhoades-Jones has been in the jewelry business at the Jacksonville Landing since she set up a kiosk 25 years ago. She said business at Hana & Her Sister Fine Jewelry slowed down in September, about the time Sundrez Cards & Gifts closed.
“They brought a lot of foot traffic to the Landing,” Rhoades-Jones said.
Despite fewer potential customers passing by her store, she said tri-color gold has been selling well and custom pieces ordered by long-time customers are being picked up almost every day.
“We are doing a lot more custom work now. People who spend money on jewelry want something custom-made,” said Rhoades-Jones.
Downtown jewelers will be open for business every day through Christmas Eve.
“We’ll be here in the store Wednesday until the last customer’s gift is wrapped,” said Barnett. “Then I’ll be out making deliveries.”