The region's jewelers missed out on a spring of sales, but they used creative means to keep their businesses going during the shutdown

The region's jewelers missed out on a spring of sales, but they used creative means to keep their businesses going during the shutdown
Young Kwak photo
Austin's Fine Jewelry's Rita Everstine hands a ring to customer Matt Kaiser and his son Josiah (right).

Dan Austin started Austin's Fine Jewelry in 1982 "in a basement, with a $100 desk and no inventory." So when his shop on North Washington was hit with a shutdown order along with the rest of the region's jewelers, Austin knew he'd have to get creative. After all, the doors were shut, his staff was holed up at home and his loyal customers were wondering about their pending orders or needing a quick fix for an anniversary or graduation.

"We changed our voicemail and Facebook and all that stuff to direct their questions straight to me," the 75-year-old Austin says. "I came in and helped as needed. I didn't tell the governor that, but he didn't ask me [about shutting down], either."

While his team was excited to get back to work when Spokane reached Phase 2, and they've been busy enough to have to skip some lunches to meet with customers after missing out on two-and-a-half months of sales, Austin says it was a little strange coming back. At a staff meeting, Austin reiterated his long-running attitudes of wanting to "be of service" and for everyone to "count their blessings" even in the pandemic environment. After all, he told the staff at their meeting, "nobody woke up with Stage Four anything today."

"We spent a little time talking about how we create our own environment," Austin says. "If someone goes to see their insurance guy, and the dentist, and us in a day, we want to be the bright spot in their day. And we want to be the bright spot for each other."

At Spokane's Jewelry Design Center, the coronavirus wasn't having much of an effect on business early on, as people still wanted to design new pieces, and have their jewelry cleaned and repaired for springtime vacations and graduations. Then they got about two days' notice before the shutdown, and everything changed.

Cassey Hill is in charge of marketing for the Jewelry Design Center, and without their steady flow of clients — and personal interactions with their regulars — she immediately started brainstorming how to stay in touch with people through the shutdown.

"We wanted a way to make people happy," Hill says. "Give them something to look forward to."

They floated the idea of doing giveaways on Instagram, and it met with such enthusiasm they decided to really go for it. With that, a daily gemstone giveaway was born.

"I literally took a shoebox of jewelry home and took pictures of them" to post each day, she says. All told, Jewelry Design Center gave away roughly $5,000 in gems as a means to keep people engaged with the store during the 60 days it was shut down. "People could sit at home and wonder what they were going to do with them if they won."

Hill says most of the contest winners showed up the first week the store reopened to pick up their prizes, and regular business has gone back to normal even if social distancing makes the store feel a little different: "Right now we have a line out the door." ♦

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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...