Fred and Shirley Swank first opened the door’s of Swank’s Jewelry in 1952, and after 66 years in the business, the shop’s doors are closing for good.
Shirley, 91, said she met Fred on a blind date in Kansas City, Mo., when he was going to watchmaking school. They moved to Iowa, and after Fred worked for a couple of years in Des Moines, the two moved to Ames, where Fred was originally from, and opened their first store in Campustown at 2522 Lincoln Way.
“We had saved about $1,800, and so that didn’t buy too much merchandise,” Shirley said. “I worked different jobs, just to put groceries on the table, and (Fred) did a lot of work for other jewelers. That’s how we got started.”
They moved to their current location at 319 Main St., in 1964, and they ended up closing their shop in Campustown in 1966.
“Because the students didn’t have any money,” Shirley said with a laugh.
Rick Swank, 66, has been around his parents’ jewelry store since the beginning. In 1990, he took over ownership of the store, but at 8 years old, he got his start by sweeping the floors of the shop. Rick wasn’t always sure he wanted to continue the family business. He was studying business at Iowa State University, but when his parents opened a new shop in the mall in 1973, Rick began working there full-time while in school, and decided to continue with the business.
After Rick graduated from ISU in 1975, he became a Certified Gemologist at the American Gem Society, where he received academic training in gem cuts and colors, and later, he became a Graduate Gemologist at the Gem Institute of America. Rick said that he learned his watchmaking and jewelry repair skills from watching his dad throughout the years.
Swank’s Jewelry has merchandise ranging from engagement rings and watches to anniversary gifts and baby gifts.
“In the heydays, we sold a lot of china and crystals. That sort of went by the wayside in 2008 when the economy went south,” Rick said. “I owned a china center for three years, too, which had tons of china and crystal. It’s hard to believe now because nobody wants it.”
After years of being in the jewelry business, Rick and Shirley agree that their favorite part has been meeting the people that visit their store.
The store is having a mark-down sale that began Nov. 23, and half of the merchandise has been sold. Its last day in business is expected to be Feb. 15.
It takes a lot of commitment to run a business, Rick said, so even though it’s bittersweet, the decision to close up shop now and retire is one that Rick is ready for.
“I have customers that have been customers for 60 years,” he said. “People have been very nice. (But now) they’re very concerned where they’re going to get their watch batteries fixed.”