CAROLYN R. WILSON Special to the Bristol Herald Courier
ABINGDON, Va. — After 125 years and four family owners, one of Abingdon’s oldest facilities in the city will cease operations in the coming weeks.
Greer Jewelers, an independent store, will close its doors after Christmas as owners Susie Buckner and her son-in-law, Carson Jackson, retire from a business that has served generations of families in the community.
The owners are currently liquidating merchandise at discounts of 30 to 80 percent and plan to sell the inventory until it’s all gone.
“It was a tough decision, but the timing just seemed right,” said Buckner, 68, who has owned and operated the business for 48 of those years.
“I don’t know what it will be like when I turn off that light switch for the last time, but after so many years, I’m ready to do something different.”
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Netta Farmer, executive vice president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, helped celebrate the business’ longevity by holding a “ribbon-tying” event last week, the reverse of a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Farmer said ribbon-tying is a new trend among chambers of commerce across the country. “This is the first one we’re doing,” she said.
During the informal ceremony at the store, Farmer closed the ends of a ribbon held at either end by the two owners, symbolizing the closure of the business united with the Chamber of Commerce, customers, friends and family.
“They’re some of our oldest members,” Farmer said. “Our members are our blood in the House. We are always looking for ways to go above and beyond for our members in the community.”
A lot of memories
Greer Jewelers has enjoyed a steady stream of traffic since the closing was announced earlier this month.
Customers share their memories of the store as they browse the shelves.
“A sweet young couple came in and told us that his grandfather bought his grandmother’s engagement ring at the store years ago. A lady came today to buy a piece of jewelry to remember us by. We heard so many sweet stories,” Buckner said.
“It’s bittersweet—we’ve been saying that word a lot lately because it’s sad. Greer Jewelers is something of an Abingdon institution. This is a regular occurrence in the city. It’s hard to imagine he’s not here,” Buckner said.
The jewelery store, known for its eye-catching high street window displays, also has a glittering history.
Buckner and Jackson are the fourth owners to run the business, which actually started a full 125 years ago.
The store was opened in the late 1800s in downtown Abingdon by MA Barbee and Buck Hagy and was named the Barbee Hagy Jewelry Store. The business was later sold to the McChesney Lester family, who also owned a jewelry store on State Street in Bristol.
When they decided to retire, Aline Greer, a store clerk, and her family purchased the business, calling it Greer and Son Jewelers. In 1959, the owners built the store that currently occupies the business.
At the age of 20, Buckner went to work for the Grears, working for the family for nearly ten years.
“When they decided to retire, they offered the business to my family and me and we changed the name to Greer Jewelers Inc.,” Buckner said.
Buckner’s sister Judy, her husband Carson, their mother Millie Woody and Buckner worked together until Judy left to pursue her career and their mother retired as an accountant in the early 2000s.
“It’s always been a family business,” Buckner said.
Their employees also have deep ties to the business.
Doris Tyler, from Abingdon, started working in the shop when she was just 12, making ribbons for gift wrapping. “She still works here,” Buckner laughed. “I think she’s the longest serving employee at Greer Jewelers.”
Penny Arrington Hite said she has shopped at the store since she was 14, picking out small jewelry from when the owners allowed customers to charge. “Sometimes it would be $2 and sometimes it was $10.”
Mary Alice Bodenhorst, a longtime customer, was present during the ceremony at the store. “I have been a customer since we moved to Abingdon in 1976. This shop is where I bought all my Christmas and wedding presents, my children got their fine china here when they got married.”
William Denton, a partner at White Birch Kitchen & Juice Bar in Abingdon, remembers shopping with his mother when he was a small child. “There was a bench that was standing there,” Denton said, pointing to the front of the store. “I was standing and climbing all over that bench,” he laughed.
“I bought all my jewelry here. This place is like family to me,” Denton said.
Buckner and Jackson have seen many changes in the jewelry industry throughout their careers. Customers’ tastes have evolved from whimsical items such as mood rings and identification and talisman bracelets.
“But something that has stood the test of time are the timeless pieces, like beautiful strands of pearls and diamond solitaires,” she said.
In 1880, she suggests that the best sellers were fine china, crystal and silver, along with pocket watches, wedding rings and brooches.
“I think jewelry became more accessible to people in the early 1900s,” Buckner said. “Mr. Hagi was a watchmaker and repairman. And they used to do eye exams and fit customers with glasses.”
As a small family business, they have always tried to put customer service first, she said.
“This is what sets us apart from other businesses. We go the extra mile for our customers. We know our customers. They are our friends, the people we go to church with and see at club meetings. We know their children and grandchildren,” Buckner said.
“We’re just like a big family.”
Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at [email protected].