Cabarrus

Village Jewelry closing shop

Mike Gibbs and Louis "Lou" Fennell have been partners since 1989. When Village Jewelry closes its doors this year, the two men aren't going to know what to do without each other.

Fennell, 64, has been in the jewelry business since the 1970s, as a wholesale jewelry salesman, traveling through the Carolinas, then as a store owner after his brother asked him to open a jewelry store in Kannapolis in 1985.

The jewelry business is in his blood. His father owned a jewelry store in Newberry, S.C. After he died in 1962, the inventory was sold because his mother couldn't run it. He moved to Concord in 1972 and, at the request of his brother, opened Village Jewelry in downtown Kannapolis.

One day, a young man walked in and asked for a job.

"I painted the walls and laid the carpet in the original store," said Gibbs. "I was a young fella and didn't have that many options."

During his first year, Gibbs started taking the brothers up on the option to buy into the business. In 1989, Fennell bought out his brother. In 1989, Gibbs became a partner.

The men moved the store to its current location in the Cloverleaf Shopping Center in 1990. In June 2010, they found out the building in which the store stands was up for sale. Last June it was sold to an oil company in Oklahoma, and in November, the duo announced they were closing their doors.

Fennell had decided to retire from the jewelry business; the pair decided to liquidate their inventory.

"You would think (the building selling) made it easier," said Fennell. "It's actually made it harder."

Fennell and Gibbs have spent years building a customer base. "We've created a lot of friends who also happen to be customers," Gibbs said

He can tell story upon story of selling a man jewelry for his girlfriend, only to have the man come back to get an engagement ring, mother's jewelry and finally, selling that man's son an engagement ring for his fiancée.

They've developed quite a few "second generation" customers, Gibbs said. "It's kind of humbling. You don't realize how important you are to people."

While Fennell may be retiring, Gibbs, 51, isn't ready to retire yet. When asked why not just keep the store opened in a different location, his response was easy.

"It's easier to split money that it is to split jewelry," said Gibbs. Even though he's retiring, Fennell is still part owner of the business.

Fennell said one of the hardest parts of his decision to retire is the store, his partner and employees.

"I have the greatest partner you could ever have," he said. "I don't enjoy coming to work when it's Mike's day off; it's not as much fun to come to work."

Other employees have been with the company a long time. In fact, Renee Lawrence was the first employee hired by the store; she is still working there. Leaving people like Renee would have hurt anyway, but leaving them without a job is going to sting even more.

While they've made the decision to close the store together, and Fennell is hanging up his calcite dichroscope, it still hasn't really sunken in that he's retiring.

"It really hasn't dawned on me what we're fixing to do," he said. "I'm not sure we'd ever have done this had the building not sold."

For retirement, Fennell said he'll spend a lot of time with his wife of 20 years, Nancy, and their children and grandchildren. He plays tennis now, and will learn golf, but he'll spend a lot of his time at the beach house he and Nancy bought four years ago that hasn't gotten much use.

As for Gibbs, his plans are still up in the air.

"I don't know where else to go," said Gibbs. "It's difficult to say. It's going to be very weird not coming in this building every day."

He knows he'll do something related to the jewelry business - it's all he knows - and hopes that in his next venture, he'll be able to take some of the employees with him. .

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