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A Tale of "Shrevival?"

This weekend, high-end jewelry and watches were on liquidation sale at the four Massachusetts stores of Alpha Omega Jewelers. The company declared bankruptcy last month after the owner fled the country and banks seized the stores' assets.

Another Boston jeweler was in bankruptcy little more than a year ago. That's when Wellesley native David Walker bought Shreve, Crump, and Low. The company dates to 1796, and Walker wants to restore its sparkle. More on that story from WBUR's Curt Nickisch.

TEXT OF STORY:

CURT NICKISCH: David Walker got know to gems and jewelry in the family business — his parents ran a shop in Wellesley. And they were old-fashioned. The told him, if he really wanted to learn the trade, he should work for someone else.

DAVID WALKER: I went out and hit the road and went to who I thought was the biggest jeweler in Boston back in the 70s, and that was Shreve Crump and Low. And my first interview was at Shreve's. And I didn't get the job at the time so I went off and worked for a competitor of Shreve's.

NICKISCH: Eventually he started his own jewelry business in Chestnut Hill. But two years ago, he saw new managers at Shreve, Crump and Low nearly kill the bicentennial brand. They moved the flagship store from Boylston Street to a new a new seven million dollar, modern building. The idea was to appeal to Boston's newer, younger wealth. But it scared off core customers, and went into bankruptcy. David Walker bought the company that never hired him.

WALKER: I think it came along at just the right time in my life. Where I had reached a point where I was ready for a challenge. And I'm getting one now, and sure my dad and mom are up in heaven looking down, geez, the kids out of control, or what have you, buying Shreve's.

SOUND OF STORE SHOWROOM

NICKISCH: Not just buying Shreve's, but putting a lot of new money into it. Over the past year, Walker spent millions on new gemstones to stock the store inventory, and he redid the flagship Boston store.

JACK WINER: We changed to become, go back to, that traditional Shreve look which you saw down the block for so many years.

NICKISCH: Jack Winer is the company vice-president. He's standing next to glowing showcases framed by rich mahogany pillars with ornate metal designs.

WINER: Even the grillwork there is a replica of the 330 Boylston Street location, really to bring you back to that flavor and that look and really get back to basic, conservative values and product that our customer purchases.

NICKISCH: Winer says Shreve, Crump and Low is trying to appeal to today's Boston's market in two ways. First, by bringing back the traditional customers. The ones who faithfully bought engagement rings, ceramic pitchers shaped like codfish, and child's silver cups and rattles. Second, by targeting a younger crowd whose money is more biotech than blue blood. Winer says those age groups go for modern fashions such as hand wrought Italian necklaces and earrings.

WINER: It's a wide range, for Daniela Vettori, I'd say it's about thirty-five and fifty. Constantina would be a woman in her twenties.

NICKISCH: Shreve's revival is going well, says owner David Walker. He dismisses some claims by a two former vendors, who say they were late in getting paid. Walker says part of Shreve's problem under the previous ownership was that third parties led the brand astray — and that he's following through on his own vision.

But it would be challenging for anybody in the current market, says Steve Duvarney. He's the president of the New England Jewelers Association.

STEVE DUVARNEY: You know there's a fair amount of competition now in Boston in the Greater Boston area for the higher end clientele than there was twenty-five or thirty years ago.

NICKISCH: That was when David Walker first left his parents' business in Wellesley to interview at Shreve, Crump and Low. Now he's in charge. He says this past Christmas sales were good, and he's optimistic he can restore its former luster.

WALKER: Shreve's, it's more than just a jewelry store. It's a Boston institution. And if I can bring back the brand and make it run at the level that I believe it can, it's going to be a great accomplishment.

NICKISCH: And might just make mom and dad proud.

For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.

This program aired on February 11, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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