Longtime watchmaker's closing sparks fond memories

| Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 1:45 p.m.

KITTANNING — For the last few days — since the owner of Adams Jewelers set out signs announcing his going-out-of-business sale — new and longtime customers have flocked to the Market Street business to share memories and recall family milestones.

It was in that store where owner Kevin Adams watched his dad, Gene Adams, repair timepieces. It was where Kevin's grandfather, Donald Adams, worked as a salesman and where, at the age of 8, Kevin discovered his career path after taking apart his first pocket watch.

“From that day on, I wanted to be a watchmaker,” said Kevin, recalling that pocket watch. “I tore it apart, laid it out on a board, labeled (the pieces) and put it back together. My dad was floored.”

After graduating from Kittanning High School at 17, Kevin went to a watchmaking school in Queens, N.Y.

He earned money for his $89 round-trip plane tickets home by working in the school's kitchen and by making passenger airline headphones.

The store at 213 Market St. was where, 40 years ago, he and his father designed the ring Kevin presented to his bride, Phyllis, and where they later brought their three children — Steve, Kristy and Greg — to visit and spend time. Even the family dogs, Tucker and Macaroni, appeared to find contentment among the store's familiar display cases.

Kevin and Phyllis spoke fondly of their customers and said many seemed more like family.

“A lot (of the customers) are fourth generation,” Kevin said. “The day I put the signs out, I fell apart.”

As they spoke about the impending closure (expected on Jan. 9 or 10), tears filled their eyes.

“It's bittersweet,” Phyllis said. “Over the past three days, we've had a really good time reminiscing and crying.”

The couple made the decision to close their 42-year-old family business when Kevin's health began to decline in recent months. He is on a waiting list to receive a liver transplant.

Adams Jewelers is the last remaining jewelry store in the borough.

The building has housed a jewelry store (at times combined with optometry) since 1884, Kevin said.

H.H. Weylman was the original owner before the store was sold to Lon O'Donnell, Kevin said. An oversized pair of spectacles, which once hung outside, is still in storage down in the basement.

Gene Adams bought the business from Lon O'Donnell after studying watchmaking upon his return from serving in World War II.

“He was a real card,” Kevin said of his father, who passed away in 1994.

“We got to work 16 years together,” said Kevin, recalling how well-liked his father was throughout the town.

It was not uncommon for Gene to plow neighbors and customers' driveways during snowy weather before heading into work.

“He was like the tooth fairy,” Kevin said. “He'd just show up.”

Over the years, trends changed in the jewelry store business.

At one time, engraving was the big thing, Phyllis said, though Kevin's custom design pieces were his true strength.

“His claim to fame is his custom work,” she said, noting that he would urge customers to reinvent old gold rather than sell it and would help them come up with new designs for old pieces.

The store continues to carry fine jewelry, time pieces and collectibles with sales tags showing up to 60 percent off.

The Adamses have made some surprising discoveries as they take stock of their final inventory.

“We found some old treasures tucked in the back of the safe,” Phyllis said.

Among the pieces dating back to the 1920s, several Lavalier necklaces are leftover from Lon O'Donnell's inventory.

Those vintage pieces are likely to find a new home during the close-out sale.

“As we find them, we steam them, clean them and set them out,” Phyllis said.

As the Adamses look ahead to the day when they finally close shop for good, they remain hopeful for Kevin's health.

“God's guiding us through this,” Phyllis said.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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