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Frank's Jewelry Closes Shop After Nearly 66 Years in Chicago

By Serena Dai | February 24, 2014 6:39am
 Frank's Jewelry is closing after nearly 66 years of business in Chicago.
Frank's Jewelry
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LAKEVIEW — In less than an hour on a recent rainy weekday, nearly 10 people knocked on the door at Frank's Jewelry, 2839 N. Clark St.

But owner BJ Fukawa, 63, didn't answer, even though it was during the shop's normal busy hours. 

Nearly 66 years after her parents started the business, which is named after Fukawa's father, the shop is closing. People have come in droves to the Lakeview shop for watch and jewelry repairs over the years, keeping her and her cousin Cheryl Kato constantly busy.

Fukawa feels bad about ignoring the knocks, but she had to reduce her hours to finish final repairs and begin the process of moving out. Saturday was the store's last day open for business.

A three-page letter posted to the door explains: While the repair portion of the business has thrived, a series of circumstances has made keeping the jewelry shop open a challenge.

More people buy jewelry online now, and a 2007 robbery of nearly all the store's gold rings depleted thousands of dollars worth of inventory. Her father died in 2007 and mother, Irene Noda, died in 2009.

"Our landlord's wonderful, and our rent isn't horrible" for the size of the space or the location, Fukawa said. But it's still more than she needs.

"We don't need anything like this space," she said.

Frank and Irene Noda first opened in a "pantry-sized storefront" in the Gold Coast in 1948, despite resistance to renting or loaning to Japanese Americans after World War II. The store moved to Lakeview in 1957.

Generations have brought their precious family jewelry to the shop — from confirmation gifts to engagement rings to subsequent anniversary rings — for repairs, she said. 

Long lines for service have recently marked the business because after Frank Noda died, only Fukawa and her cousin handled many repairs. They outsourced some work but didn't hire anyone because the familiarity with how watches worked "would be almost impossible to train," Fukawa said. 

They never advertised. Fukawa only recently created a Facebook page and business email account after she made plans to close, and the business never had a website. They couldn't handle more repair customers, she said.

"I know this sounds really stupid, but we couldn't possibly be busier than we are right now," she said. 

Things would be different if people coming in for repairs still purchased the jewelry, Fukawa said. But she admits that many people don't take their jewelry operations seriously even though they sell some worth thousands of dollars. The store looks a bit like a "pawn shop," she admitted.

And throughout the years, the family has been wary of raising service prices. Changing a watch battery costs $10 and shortening a band costs $5. Friends have encouraged raising costs to fix more expensive watches, but Fukawa felt it wasn't "moral" when the amount of work was the same.

Sometimes, Fukawa would let customers walk out without paying when all a watch needed was a bit of oil and a quick blow.

"Some of my friends said, 'You're living in the '70s'," she said. 

Fukawa also said she is ready to move on. She wants to open another store, perhaps near Lincoln Square. The name Frank's Jewelry would retire, and the new store would be different.

The former art major plans to design her own jewelry, something she never had time for before. She wants to showcase local artists, recycled metals and conflict-free pieces so the store would be more of a boutique than a wholesale jewelry store, like Frank's.

But all the while, she'll be true to her father's legacy and continue repairs. 

"It gives us a lot of pleasure," she said. "It’s very meaningful to be able to serve people for things they hold dear."

Customers can still contact Frank's Jewelry, 2839 N. Clark St., at franksjewelrychicago@gmail.com or through Facebook to pick up items previously left for repairs. Fukawa is also still honoring one-year guarantees on watch batteries.