Gary Bruce has worked full time at Bruce Jewelers for nearly 50 years, giving him the opportunity to see three or four generations of families come through its doors.
“The jewelry business is a lot of times a matter of gifts of expressions of affection,” Bruce said. “Being able to have some small part of people’s personal lives on that basis is a rewarding part of the business.”
Bruce is preparing to retire from Bruce Jewelers, 631 S. Main St., Princeton, which was opened in 1946 by his grandfather, George Bruce Sr., and his father, George Bruce Jr. His father had returned home after serving with the U.S. Army during World War II.
His grandfather retired in 1966 at which time his father became the sole proprietor and ran the business with his wife, Irma.
Gary Bruce worked part-time for his parents beginning his sophomore year and graduated from Princeton High School in 1970. He attended Gem City College in Quincy to learn the jewelry trade and graduated in 1973 – the first student to receive a degree from the college after it became accredited.
“My parents and grandfather had already established the business so I just grew up in it,” he said. “I enjoyed the craft itself. I wanted to learn more and so I went to college to get an education on that. It was just natural that I would go into the jewelry business.”
At 21, the college hired him to teach at the school. He did so for one semester before returning home to join the family business in December 1973.
“From both my father and mother I learned about the business side,” he said. “School’s teach the craft, but they don’t teach a lot about the business side of it.”
In January 1977, his parents made him a partner in the business and in 1987 his father sold him his half of the business.
His parents didn’t have an interest in fully retiring, so they remained at the store working for their son, which Bruce said was an ideal family transition of the business.
“They enjoy the people they worked with here at the business. They enjoyed the staff and they enjoyed seeing the customers,” Bruce said. “Basically they worked until their health was too poor to work anymore.”
His mother died in 1994 and his father in 2004.
Gary turned 70 this year and decided it was time to retire, citing long hours and managing time off as reasons.
“We’re just completing our second record year of sales, so I’m not retiring because business has been poor. I’m retiring because I’m 70,” he said.
In his many years, he recalled some changes in the industry.
“I have always believed that we had to keep up with things,” he said. “I’ve always embraced technology.”
In his early years in the industry, he would sketch an example of a jewelry design for someone. Two-dimension design work came in 1999 and about a decade later three-dimensional CAD design was introduced.
“We’re the only ones in the area that do that,” he said. “We also use sophisticated microscopes to capture digital images.”
Some of their work has involved appraisal work and insurance settlement work, he said.
As a certified master watchmaker, he also as done antique watch restoration as well as work on modern watches.
The store’s future
Bruce Jewelers will remain open until Saturday, Jan. 14, or until inventory is sold.
His staff, whom he said has been wonderful over the years, will remain until the store closes.
Currently, there is no buyer for the business.
“A sale like this and an announcement of retirement oftentimes encourages someone to contact a business about a transition and a possible purchase,” Bruce said. “I’ve had a couple of inquiries.”
Some of the work Bruce Jewelers offers is not available locally. His former customers would have to travel some distance for some of his services.
“Even the minor things like putting a battery in a watch, there’s no one else who puts batteries in watches in Bureau County,” he said. “Another reason why it’s important we attempt to find a buyer for the business.”
In the jewelry industry, the inventory has to be dramatically reduced so the new buyer can afford to acquire the business, Bruce said.
So whether the store closes or sells, Bruce has to sell his merchandise.
“I don’t want to take the jewelry home with me,” he quipped.