Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series about how locally-owned, small businesses in the Longview area are faring — and in some cases surviving — in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jim Bartlett Fine Jewelry adapted to changing governmental regulations related to the coronavirus pandemic. But for this locally owned jeweler, the effects of COVID-19 were even more personal.
Owner Jim Bartlett and his wife, Genie, each contracted the virus this summer.
“She got it, and then I got it,” Bartlett said. “Fortunately, we did not have severe symptoms. It was like I had a bad cold, but I didn’t end up hospitalized.”
He said thanks to his loyal staff, the store was able to maintain its operations while Bartlett and his wife were quarantined. Now, the store that has pivoted throughout the pandemic is expanding.
Planned renovations were delayed, Bartlett said, but sales continued to be strong. Bartlett said his store is on track for a record year, so he decided to proceed with renovations to the showroom and expansion of the showcase.
“Prudence is a wise thing, but there comes a point in time where you actually become a part of the problem, and we don’t want to be creating a bad environment. We want to be helping to restore the flow of business,” he said. “If we hide and hold back too long, then we actually begin to inhibit our own business.”
Established in 1979, Bartlett originally started his Longview business as a repair shop. He later expanded into retail repair and eventually grew the business into a retail jewelry store that focuses on finished jewelry, in-house repairs for customers and custom work.
The store closed in April because of COVID-19 restrictions. When it reopened in May, Jim Bartlett Fine Jewelry, like many other businesses, was diligent about protecting its employees and customers by providing hand sanitizer stations, following social distancing guidelines, providing employees with face masks and ensuring that high touch areas were wiped down.
“Interestingly enough, my accountant has always said to buy all the cleaning supplies you need for the upcoming year before the end of the year. So, we had plenty of Clorox wipes, toilet paper and paper towels before the end of the year last year,” he said. “We steam clean the jewelry a lot as it is. If someone tries on a ring, it has fingerprints all over it, so the jewelry was already being cleaned regularly, and whenever someone leans on the glass of the showcase, it leaves a mark so it is getting wiped down, too. This was standard practice, even before COVID.”
Bartlett said he keeps an eye on local COVID-19 reports and has eased up a little on the store’s face mask policy. However, with the recent trend of rising virus cases, he plans to to adjust store practices accordingly.
“If things don’t change over the next few days, we will start implementing the mask rules for our staff," he said. "The main thing is that we just want to protect everybody."
While many small businesses have struggled this year, Bartlett said the jewelry industry is experiencing highs.
“It is kind of interesting how this kind of thing affects different businesses differently. We were never really sure what was going to happen,” he said. “Many businesses have tightened up a little bit, to wait and see what is going to happen. Jewelers across the country, including myself, have reduced debt, streamlined inventory and our businesses have not faltered as much as others.”
Travel restrictions canceling extensive planned vacations increased people's expendable income, but Bartlett attributes much of this year's success to the bridal portion of his business growing stronger.
“I think it has to do with sentimentality,” he said. “I think people have begun to realize the value of life because somebody that they know was healthy last week and now they are not because of COVID, and people are beginning to realize that it is time to make a commitment.”