A more-than-a-century old Howell jewelry business will close for good once inventory is liquidated.
Long-time owner of Yax Jewelers, Tom Cunningham, has decided to retire, close the business, and sell the building at 102 W. Grand River Ave.
Jewelry has been his family's business for generations. He and his stepfather Charles Blanks purchased Yax Jewelers from the Yax family in 1973. He has been at the helm, making and selling jewelry and doing repairs, since he was 22 years old.
"I didn't plan on doing that," as a youth, he said. "I went to college for two years for architecture, but me and calculus didn’t see eye to eye."
Cunningham, 67, of Marion Township, said after more than 45 years he will miss his customers.
He expects to close the doors in late March, "depending on how things sell," he said.
He said times have changed in the jewelry business over the years, and recent years have been tougher.
"Business isn't what it used to be," he said. "You have Amazon ... all that malarkey. We have a cell phone and Google, and nobody can find you unless you're first place in the Google sheet. You don't shop like you used to period."
But he said brick-a-mortar businesses can offer things internet shopping cannot.
"I've had customers for 40 years, the same ones. You know their families. You know their kids, sold them all jewelry and stuff," he said. "Who's going to change their (watch) battery?"
Cunningham got his start as a teenager learning how to work the trophy engraving machine at his step-grandfather H.C. Blanks's jewelry store in New Hudson. Later he joined the National Guard, spent time reading meters for Consumers Power Co. and started a family.
He said when his stepfather found out Donald Yax Sr., the son of store founder Lawrence Yax, was selling the business in 1973, he jumped at the chance to purchase and grow an existing business.
The Yax family first opened the business in Howell in 1917, the same year Cunningham's family founded their New Hudson store.
When Cunningham and his step father purchased the business it was down the road at 108 E. Grand River Ave. They purchased its current location in an historic building at the corner of Grand River and Michigan avenues in 1977 and moved the business there in 1978.
Father and son Donald Yax Sr. and Donald Yax Jr. reopened the family business under the name Donald Jewelers, at 108 E. Grand River Ave., in 1978. That business closed in 2015.
"I took classes on gem and gemology repair and he (his step father) was a watchmaker," who taught him some skills of the trade, Cunningham said.
He said he felt it was a good time to sell the building and retire to play golf, spend more time with his wife and family, and use his new travel trailer to visit state parks.
Cunningham is in the midst of selling the building on land contract to a new owner, who is looking to purchase it as an investment and rent it, he said.
"It's not a done deal," he said, adding he does not know what will next occupy the site.
David Sgriccia, 71, has been buying his wife Nina Sgriccia jewelry from Yax Jewelers for more than 30 years, he said. The Oceola Township couple was shopping there Monday, perhaps for the last time.
"It's the only jewelry store we've shopped at since moving here," David Sgriccia said. "Every birthday, Sweetest Day, Christmas I'm in the store, and they always remember what she already has."
Nina Sgriccia said she has enjoyed getting the jewelry from the store.
"What's really nice is that Tom kept a record of everything you've purchased, so he would come in and ask, 'what does Nina need?'" she said.