By Kaitlin Murphy
A long-time source of fine jewelry and gifts for special occasions in Old Town is having its big moment. Women-owned jewelry boutique Today’s Cargo is celebrating its Golden Jubilee this month. The 50th birthday celebration kicked off on March 3rd with a party held at the store that included an auction and a special guest appearance from Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, who presented a proclamation to owners Donna McIntyre and Carla Clarke.
More than 50 guests, including long-time customers and supporters of Today’s Cargo, enjoyed the soiree with champagne and cake. A spin- the-wheel raffle guaranteed hand-picked baubles. People mingled, won beautiful pieces and celebrated the anniversary. The event was the culmination of building a solid structure and making connections through the years as a key part of the community fabric in Old Town.
The foundation of this business was established in 1973 by Gladys Irvin, who sold jewelry at a card table at the Alexandria Flea market located at the Crilley Warehouse on Lee Street. Whatever pieces arrived in that day’s mail shipment on the Potomac River made up the wares and so the name Today’s Cargo was born. Demand for Irvin’s jewelry grew and she moved to a new location at 217 Cameron St. Another move followed before finally settling at the King St. location in 2007.
Irvin remained affiliated with Today’s Cargo until her death in Feb. 2019. While Irvin had a passion for jewelry, Donna McIntyre found Today’s Cargo as a second career. In 1976, McIntyre, a retired teacher, joined the business and immediately began contributing to its growth. McIntyre had an interest in jewelry and was self-taught in all aspects of business. She learned all she could about gemology and sourcing stones, which contributed greatly to the continued success and growth of Today’s Cargo.
Carla Clarke remembers shopping as a young girl at Today’s Cargo with her mother. The warm and friendly atmosphere always made her feel welcome. Even though she was little, Clarke was invited to browse the cases of jewelry and when she couldn’t reach the button on the rotating retail display, a helpful sales associate pushed it for her so that she could enjoy perusing the jewelry.
This attention to service not only led to not only a customer for life but a future owner. Clarke joined Today’s Cargo in 2000 and now serves as the vice president and part owner.
“Gladys was the brain and Donna is the heart [of Today’s Cargo],” Clarke said.
The staff of Today’s Cargo continually try to learn new and innovative business practices. Recently, Clarke earned her Certified Master Appraiser accreditation through the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers and is currently the only C.M.A. in Old Town. Not surprisingly, Clarke receives many referrals for her service.
The mission of the business is alive and well today. Its mantra of “treat customers well and provide unique jewelry for all tastes and occasions,” is a timeless theme that still draws new clients in – and keeps old-timers coming back. The shop sells traditional, classic, modern and artistic pieces. It also provides full repair services, ear piercing, appraisals and custom design.
Periodic refreshes, such as a newer logo and branding, tie together the foundation of the past with a look to the future. Today’s Cargo tries to appeal to its longtime, loyal customer base while also adapting to what newer customers want – which includes using the newest technology.
“The custom design studio uses a computer-aided design software program so that people can get exactly what they want,” Clarke said. This service allows customers to create, design and produce a rendering of their ideas.
Today’s Cargo celebrates clients who share stories of their lives when they purchase mementos, jewelry and other gifts. Clarke enjoys being part of the significant events such as christenings and baptisms, graduations, engagements and anniversaries which are celebrated and acknowledged with gifts from the store.
Today’s Cargo successfully maneuvered through the pandemic, though the future for their store and many small businesses are threatened by shifts in retail spending and rent increases.
“We are known for having quaint and charming small businesses and shops. A big worry is that Old Town will become a big box retail store town,” Clarke said.
For now, honoring the past, present and future is the focus of the Golden Jubilee that Today’s Cargo is celebrating.
Clarke said she is both proud to take on the legacy of the store and is ready for the next chapter.
Today’s Cargo is located at 1102 King St. The store’s anniversary sale runs through March 23.