Generations of Jewelers

MinersNorthWhen Beth Guntzviller opened Miner’s North Jewelers, she had no idea where the journey would take her.

Now, nearly 40 years later, she’s grateful and looking forward to her next journey: retirement.

“For years, I was responsible (for the store). For me it’s a weird time – where do you fit in now?” Guntzviller wondered.

Not that she’s totally left the store behind. She still plans to help out with various causes and fundraisers. “Bras for a Cause, the Gladhander auction, Old Town Playhouse – I think about those things and what we’re going to do for them. That’s the fun part. I didn’t have the time before, now I can.”

The Guntzviller name is long from gone from the business. With three family members still actively involved, she couldn’t get completely away from it if she tried. Her husband Wayne is the lead bench jeweler, their daughter Julie works in inventory, and their son Jeff is now running the operation.

Jeff grew up around the business, but not actually in it. He didn’t work there until he began attending college. “I was full-time the last year or two of college,” he said. “It was a good opportunity to see how I could help.”

Turns out he could indeed help. And he found he enjoyed it.

“I realized what I loved and could bring to the business was relationships,” he said. Jeff grew up with a cadre of friends in his hometown of Elk Rapids, many of whom were fellow athletes. As they reached their mid-20s, many turned to him for advice on engagement and wedding rings.

Jeff was also attuned to technology as a twenty-something and the ways in which it could be harnessed for business.

“Our business, like anything else, changes with time,” he said. “We have a great website and people can buy online.”

Of course, there is also increased competition, not only from stores in the malls, but from stores such as Sam’s and online merchandisers. Add to that the constantly changing fashions, and you’ve got an industry that is continually presenting challenges.

Like his mom, Jeff sees business, particularly his business, as one in which the connection with customers is of paramount importance. “It’s part of engagements and weddings – it’s emotion-driven.”

The bulk of the sales at Miner’s North are smaller purchases, what he calls fun fashion jewelry, such as rings and pendants made with Petoskey stones. On the other hand, the larger part of the store’s bottom line comes from purchases of gems and precious metals, usually attached to a special occasion.

“Fine jewelry is 60 to 70 percent of our business,” he said. “It’s occasions that are meaningful and personal” – and require that personal connection.

Beth Guntzviller said when she first opened Miner’s North in a smaller space on Front Street, she didn’t know exactly what he was getting into. One thing she found, though, was that business in general – and the jewelry business in particular – had long been a man’s world.

“I went to shows by myself,” she said. “I’d be the only woman there.”

She speaks fondly of those who helped her, including Pete Strom, former owner of Hamilton’s. She and Wayne were able to raise a family and put their kids through school as small business owners, but they were still surprised when Jeff and Julie, who had been a teacher, came on board.

“We never thought it would go on into the next generation,” said Beth Guntzviller. “We thought the kids would just get jobs and we’d be done. Jeff was not interested in the business. We were going to sell or just retire.”

But things change and the kids decided they were interested, and now that Beth has retired, the rest of the family and staff will carry on.

“Wayne won’t be retiring for a while,” she said. “He can do anything – fix a leak in the roof, fix a display, fix a diamond that’s been set crooked.”

But with another bench jeweler on board, he has the luxury of taking more time off, whether it’s to go hunting or take time to spend with his newly-retired wife.

Beth Guntzviller said the decision to retire was a natural one. A number of longtime staff members had moved away or retired, and with Jeff working full-time and assuming a management role, she didn’t want to confuse staff members about who to go to with questions and be in the way.

“Jeff grew into the responsibility,” she said. “He’s got the courage to change things – I’m stuck in my ways. And they can do it without me. It was the right time. I could step away.”

She’s still not sure exactly what will take up her time, but she has some ideas.

“I’m going to exercise more, hike, ride my bike, fix up my house, sit at the coffee shop in Elk Rapids,” she said.
But the transition to retirement hasn’t come without challenges. She has had to adjust to no longer being in charge.

“What do I miss? Putting my two cents in,” she said. “Things I’d want to change. I miss the responsibility.”