Alexandria’s historical lifeline is not limited to reflections on Colonial America, the Revolutionary and Civil wars, or the influence of George Washington and the Lees. It’s far more tangible in the long-running family businesses that exist throughout the city in myriad categories.
One of those is King’s Jewelry at 609 King St., which is celebrating its 55th Anniversary this month. Come June, owner Norman “Brad” Bradford, will mark his 48th year as the personification of what a family retail business is all about in this big-box, chain-store, technologically impersonal era.
Opened in 1955 by Moritz Bier and Sam Kirschbaum of Pittsburgh, King’s was a family-owned and -operated enterprise from the beginning. Bier and Kirchbaum had married each other’s sisters and they were the store’s only employees until June 1962.
At the time, 19-year-old Brad Bradford was working in a shoe store next to King’s that originally sold a variety of items such as home movie projectors, radios,and steam irons as well as jewelry.
“Bier offered me a job for $10 more a week than I was making selling shoes. So I changed careers,” Bradford said. “I learned business on the job. I could have never learned it from a book. I’m just too hyperactive I guess.”
After being the only employee other than the owners for 17 years, Bradford bought King’s Jewelry in 1978 when the transplanted Pennsylvanians decided to retire. By that time his sister Helen, who now has 37 years longevity at King’s jewelry, had joined him in the store.
Bradford also carried on the tradition of a true family business. His wife Cathy and daughter Tari joined him and his sister to operate the store on a daily basis.
Tari has worked in the store for 26 years performing both office work and sales. Cathy, whose tenure covers 24 years, was in the travel business before joining her husband in the store.
“I’m a native Alexandrian and I wanted to do something different than the travel business. We all pride ourselves on what Brad has built here,” Cathy said.
Overall, there are 12 employees at King’s Jewelry including Simon Shammas, who’s been there 13 years and master goldsmith Marcos Smyth, a 26-year veteran. Continuity plays an important part in Bradford’s business strategy as reflected both in the loyalty of his employees, most of whom count their employment in decades, and in the business’s location.
In 1985 Bradford was faced with a momentous decision. The building that houses the store was going on the market.
“If it sold I might have been forced to move which, after all these years, I did not want to do,” he said.
He ended up paying more than double what the building was probably worth.
“My wife wasn’t too happy about that,” he said. “But buying this building proved to be a very good decision. We are now assured of being here as long as we want.”
He is well versed in the changes that have taken place in Old Town’s business district over the years.
“Urban renewal nearly wiped out Old Town years ago when they tore down that whole block that is now the Monaco Hotel,” Bradford said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes throughout my 48 years here at this store,” he said.
That has also included changes in the store’s offerings.
Today there is a wide array of exquisite jewelry and gifts that include Lladro figurines, Heart of Fire diamonds and other precious stones, fine writing pens, crystal, unique tableware, silver collections and a varied selection of watches from Rolex to Swiss Army to Seko. King’s Jewelry also offers repairs or adjustments to any treasured keepsake or heirloom as well as custom-designed pieces covering the entire jewelry spectrum.
In addition to their personal service, they also offer something that is becoming a rare commodity in the 21st century: A guarantee of satisfaction and excellence in their products. Bradford said their loyal customers have spanned the decades based on that guarantee.