Professional Jeweler Archive: Banking on New Space

November 2000

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Banking on New Space

Redevelopment and mergers have left many bank buildings vacant, creating opportunities for jewelers looking to relocate to elegant sites requiring minimal renovation


All across America historical downtowns are being redeveloped. These restorations often open exciting opportunities for retailers looking for bigger or better locations. This was the case for Colonial Jewelers, Frederick, MD.

Located in downtown Frederick since 1955, Colonial Jewelers was outgrowing its 2,000-sq.-ft. store by 1997. When owners Jeffrey and Patty Hurwitz read a newspaper article about a soon-to-be vacant bank building, they were interested. The bank building would allow them to expand and place them on a corner of the busiest intersection in town.

They considered the possibilities through the busy 1997 holiday season, then visited the building in January to judge how suitable it would be for a jewelry store. “That was the beauty of it; we didn’t have to change one single wall,” says Jeffrey.

The negotiations were completed in three to four weeks, then a 60-day feasibility study examined everything from the building’s structural integrity to the interior design. The Hurwitzes consulted with experts on various concerns, such as:

• Roof condition.
• Firewall separation.
• Asbestos abatement.
• Structural engineering.
• Heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
• Plumbing, electric and sprinkler systems.

Once satisfied with the reports from the experts, the Hurwitzes settled on the building June 1 and began to finalize plans, select contractors and obtain permits.

Obtaining Contractors, Permits

Finding reputable contractors can be frustrating, they say, but they depended on referrals from their customers and business contacts. They even used the professional services of some of their customers.

Getting approvals for renovations can be time-consuming, caution the Hurwitzes. They had each contractor obtain the necessary permits from the town for his part of the project.

Because the former bank building is in a designated historic district, the Hurwitzes also had to gain approval from the Frederick Historic District Commission. You may have to do the same, so be aware such commissions usually meet monthly. If an approval is denied for any reason, you have to start the entire process again for the next month’s meeting. The Hurwitzes wanted to put the store name on every window, but the Frederick Historic District Commission limited it to every other window. The Hurwitzes also had to use interior downspouting when replacing a roof and get special approval for the entrance awning.

With all permits approved, the Hurwitzes were ready to begin renovation of the 4,000-sq.-ft. building just one month after acquiring it.

Designing the Space

For jewelers considering relocation, banks are good choices, says Jeffrey. “They are very good about keeping their buildings up.” For example, the bank had already removed asbestos and complied with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The bank’s 125-cubic-ft. vault was another advantage, providing security and more storage. In addition, the larger showroom space allows for sit-down cases and more room to display an expanded inventory.

The Hurwitzes consulted a store designer for guidance with the showroom. The main objective was a layout that allows for traffic flow that best showcases the merchandise. “The layout was the foundation,” says Jeffrey. “The next step was to make the showroom inviting and elegant without making it too formal or fancy.” The Hurwitzes also removed drapes from the eight 20-ft.-high windows that span the corner storefront to visually extend the showroom to the street.

The Move

The business closed for only one day to move to the new location in September. The case-maker moved the existing cases and placed the new ones while staff members transported the inventory.

The more expensive jewelry was simply packed the night before, placed in the old safe and moved to the new vault on moving day. The move was accomplished under the watchful eyes of an off-duty police officer the Hurwitzes hired for the day.

Promotions

Colonial Jewelers moved shortly before its 50th anniversary, so the Hurwitzes promoted the anniversary and the new location in October. The promotion included television and radio spots and a supplement in the local newspaper.

The newspaper staff helped the Hurwitzes with the supplement, offering guidance on how to solicit vendors. The Hurwitzes contacted local businesses and major suppliers, requesting a gift donation or support through an advertisement. The response was so overwhelming that what began as a 12-page supplement, the minimum required by the newspaper, ended up being 28 pages with about 13 pages of advertising.

The Hurwitzes also hosted a private grand-opening reception for more than 500 customers. Invitations were mailed three weeks in advance. On a late-September evening, the dazzling new showroom, nestled in the heart of the historic district, was unveiled. Elegantly dressed waiters who served hot and cold hors d’oeuvres and an open bar contributed to the party atmosphere.

Since the relocation, the Hurwitzes have enjoyed a substantial increase in foot traffic and a 15% increase in sales. In fact, they’ve had to increase staff as a result. They attribute the increase to a good location with high visibility and the ability to provide expanded services.

To other jewelers who may be considering a move, Patty has this advice, “Follow your instincts and do your homework. We knew it was a risk, but it felt like the right thing to do.”

– by Theresa Ann Rutter

At left: Colonial Jewelers’ owners had to get permission from the town’s historical commission to add an awning to the historic bank building’s facade.

Below: Bright airy spaces characterize Colonial Jewelers’ new location in a former bank building. The facility’s 20 ft.-high windows help.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications