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My View: Jewelry store leaves a sparkling legacy

By Kristin Owens

Southgate Plaza Jewelers had a magnificent run. For 45 years, this family-run store graced a corner of the plaza in West Seneca. But, like all good things, its time has come to an end. In 2017, the shop will close.

That makes me sad. I grew up in Buffalo in the mid-1980s and after brief stints at Dickie’s Donuts and Krasner’s Ladies Apparel, my 16-year-old self landed a coveted part-time job with the Scaglione Family. Ecstatic, I got to play with jewelry instead of serve coffee and sell elastic-waist pants.

Southgate Jewelers taught me about customer service. Maybe it was my age – impressionable – or maybe the Scagliones had more important skills sets to teach other than icing donuts or folding sweaters. Whatever the reason, that education follows me today.

Don’t judge customers by what they wear. Complimentary gift wrap can make a sale. You can’t go wrong with classic. Always educate the customers on what they’re buying. Windex makes everything sparkly and clean. Be honest.

I not only learned a lot, I began my love affair with jewelry. I must admit, most of my minimum-wage paycheck went right back to the store. An engraved Speidel ID bracelet. My prom charm. A pair of real gold hoop earrings.

As I got older and graduated from college, job opportunities moved me away from Buffalo. But the store grounded me. At the holidays, I always came back to visit family and found an excuse to stop in. I went from being an employee to a loyal customer.

Southgate Jewelers never disappointed. I always found a must-have to purchase. My first strand of power pearls. My first grown-up watch.

Decades later, when I got engaged living three states away, I never considered looking for a ring anywhere else. It would have been easier for my fiancé to go to Jared, but really? All those years ago, the Scagliones had believed in me. And I trusted them completely. It was worth the airfare.

Thanks to Southgate Jewelers, my godchildren have engraved watches. My cousins have graduation gifts and wedding presents. My husband has a wedding ring that was overnighted to Alaska for our shotgun wedding before his short-notice Iraq deployment. Generations of families have treasured items. All of my (our) purchases, special and prized, will live on when the store is no longer.

Southgate Plaza Jewelers not only stocked beautiful pieces, the employees repaired items. They changed batteries. They sized rings. They removed links from watches. They soldered charms to bracelets. It wasn’t always about a sale, but making customers happy, even with items purchased from other stores or online shopping channels. I remember older customers bringing in plastic bags full of twisted chains. We would untangle, unravel and clean – no charge.

Looking back, I realize the employees were the store. That’s what made Southgate Jewelers successful. How else could a small brick-and-mortar building compete with online shopping? The Scagliones and a handful of dedicated employees successfully took on big chain stores for decades.

Personalized customer service carried that store long after the 2008 recession, because otherwise (my opinion only) it would have folded quickly. And that says a lot. About the Scagliones’ character and their business philosophy. People make a business, not inventory. I have never forgotten that.

So, thank you Southgate Jewelers. For your teachings, generosity and service all these years. I have no doubt your legacy will continue to sparkle on.

Kristin Owens, Ph.D., grew up in Buffalo and now lives in Fort Collins, Colo. A recovering academic, she is a writer working on her first book.
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