Professional Jeweler Archive: This Old Store Gets a Redo

June 2003


This Old Store Gets a Redo

When Butler Truax Jewelers moved its venerable business to an Art Deco building, it invited modern amenities along

Butler Truax Jewelers of Selma has a distinguished history as one of the oldest continuously operating retail establishments in Alabama. The store has been owned successively by four extended families since the Civil War era – one female relative quilted the store’s watches and diamonds into her petticoat to save them from post-Civil War raiders.

When given the opportunity to buy and preserve an Art Deco building, Butler Truax found the historic aura of the 1930s building irresistible. Located in Selma’s historic downtown shopping district, the building – once a Kress department store – has details similar to New York City’s Rockefeller Center, another Art Deco jewel.

“We decided to reproduce the way the store looked almost 75 years ago to complement the architectural detail in the building,” says co-owner Jim Truax. Butler Truax hired Keith Kovar of GRID/3 International, New York City, to bring the building into the 21st century. Kovar knew the project would not be simply restoration. “My design is adaptive re-use, rather than restoration, creating a traditional-looking space with contemporary efficiencies,” he says.

Kovar used the store’s mahogany showcases, which were built in 1919 and were still in good condition, and added new ones that reflect the character of the old ones but don’t slavishly copy them. The new showcases cater to modern tastes with 20-in. depths, eight inches shorter than the older ones. Kovar incorporated the store’s doors and windows into the new design and echoed their style in wood trim details.

The biggest challenge was the main floor’s 18-ft. ceiling. Though it has the original coved Art Deco style, it’s not conducive to the kind of lighting and climate control a modern jewelry store requires. Kovar placed general illumination lighting at 18 feet and designed a lower bulkhead to carry air conditioning at a lower, more effective height over the showcases and wallcases on both sides of the store.

For more targeted lighting over two center island showcases, Kovar ordered dropped soffits to hold fixtures. Jim Truax found fixtures he said created the effect of lights hung over billiard tables. Kovar embellished the effect with ornamental moldings that accommodate the lights and complement the décor of the store. “Not only does it look good, but the lighting works beautifully,” says Truax. “When we take the jewelry out of the cases, it sparkles.”

Kovar says the new construction serves aesthetic and practical purposes seamlessly. “The idea here is to bring the eye down,” he says, “and in accomplishing that, to provide us with the necessary platform for the electrical and mechanical components.

To bring focused, modern lighting to Butler Truax’s main floor while preserving the original 18-ft. ceilings, designer Keith Kovar used dropped soffits with period molding to suspend lights over the store’s vintage mahogany showcases.
The Art Deco facade of Butler Truax’s new location, formerly a Kress department store built around 1930.

Copyright © 2003 by Bond Communications