A jewelry store offering discounts in advance of the holiday season? Nothing unusual about that.
But there's something different about the sale at family-owned Karat Patch Jewelry, a Charlotte fixture for 32 years.
It’s the store’s first sale ever. And also its last. Karat Patch is going out of business.
For owners Lewis “Buddy” Simon, and son, Scott, deciding to close the store at 901 Providence Road wasn’t easy. An unanticipated health scare, shifting market conditions and a premium on customer service led the Simons to this conclusion.
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“We considered selling,” said Buddy Simon, 81, “but we felt no one would take care of our customers the way we have and honor the relationships we’ve built. Our ‘going out of business’ sale is really one more opportunity for us to share value and thank the people who have supported us over the years.”
With almost 15 years at their Myers Park location on Providence Road and 18 years operating at the former Charlotte Merchandise Mart (now known as The Park), Karat Patch boasts nearly 15,000 patrons in its database.
Scott Simon, 51, estimates they’ve sold nearly 20,000 engagement and wedding rings over the years. He takes particular pride in having many shoppers who are children and grandchildren of longtime store customers.
Tracey Heintze, 51, of south Charlotte is such a customer. “My mom bought jewelry for years from Buddy, stretching back to early days at the Merchandise Mart,” said Heintze, who stopped in just to wish the Simons well and do some browsing.
Health scare changes business plan
Buddy Simon initially prepared for his son to take over the business one day.
That succession plan changed in the fall of 2013, the Simons explain, after Scott fell ill dramatically while on a flight to Las Vegas. He was rushed from the plane to a hospital, diagnosed with multiple blood clots in both lungs and was placed in a medically induced coma after experiencing complete organ failure.
“I was in the coma for three weeks and spent the next several months recovering,” Scott Simon said. “Even upon returning, I wasn’t giving the business my full attention. Dad made it clear my priority was to work on my health. Taking over the business was no longer an option.”
Karat Patch has endured for more than three decades despite being an independent brick-and-mortar jewelry store with a limited online presence. The Simons credit their success to the value they’ve placed on building relationships and meeting customers’ needs.
“It’s not about selling jewelry for us,” Buddy Simon said. “It’s about helping people buy. Helping customers find the right jewelry and taking the mystery and intimidation out of the process is important to us.”
From formal wear to jewelry
Buddy Simon’s path to Karat Patch began after the Augusta, Ga., native built and operated a successful chain of formalwear stores throughout the Southeast from the early 1960s to 1982.
“Simon’s Formal Wear had its first store in uptown Charlotte and grew to 24 stores,” said Buddy Simon. “Seasonal fashions made it expensive to change out inventory and keep up. I eventually sold the business and expanded on a side business I had with a friend selling jewelry.”
He operated in a middle ground between wholesale and retail, selling to retailers and individuals at flea markets and while on the road. Charlotte Merchandise Mart ultimately became his base of operations, where Karat Patch was born in 1982.
“Our customer base was built from doing business at the flea market,” said Buddy Simon, who noted his weekend revenue at that time often topped $60,000. “We became known for having an extensive line of fine jewelry, especially diamonds, at fair prices. We never had a sale because we never marked up our jewelry to where we needed to discount it.”
Simon moved to the freestanding Myers Park location in 2000 to be closer to his core customer base.
The brightly lit store has a casual and accessible feel, due largely to the associates as many of them have been with the business for long time. Kids shopping with their parents are offered candy rings.
Staff is on a first-name basis with many customers. Buddy Simon’s dog, Alfie, is always on hand.
Economy influences decision
Like many retailers, the recession in 2008 hurt Karat Patch’s business. While the store is seeing an uptick in sales, the Simons say business never fully recovered.
“I was too late to recognize the impact of the Internet and online jewelry sales,” said Buddy Simon, noting the dominance of large, national jewelers also contributed to his decision to close.
Karat Patch is set to close after the first of the year.
Buddy Simon plans to enjoy retirement and manage other business interests.
Scott Simon feels he has another act left. So along with a renewed focus on his health, he plans to launch a retail platform sometime in 2015.
“The industry has taken a hit of late with a widespread problem of over grading diamonds and an increasingly transactional approach to sales,” Scott Simon said.
“For me, the jewelry experience should be about fun, excitement and emotion.”