LOWER MANHATTAN — John Valentino recently retired — but he hasn't been able to stay away from Seaport Jewelry, the popular neighborhood shop he ran for the past 28 years.
Valentino, 67, a Staten Island resident, is still a regular fixture inside the 50 Fulton St. store, which he sold to a pair of Queens brothers at the end of July. Several days a week, Valentino still stops by to greet his longtime customers and introduce them to the new owners — and to say goodbye.
"It's a transitional period, to help the guys out," Valentino said from the 350-square-foot shop on a recent afternoon. "It's always sad when you give something up, but it's been a long time."
Valentino started Seaport Jewelry on Fulton Street in 1984, when the neighborhood bustled with office workers during the day but was dark and quiet at night.
Back then, nearly all of Valentino's customers worked in the Financial District's office high-rises, but over time he began to see more and more residents in his shop. But despite the neighborhood's demographic changes, the focus of Valentino's business stayed the same.
"It was always gold and diamonds and watches," Valentino said.
When Valentino recently decided to retire, he was glad to find Levi and Abram Babakhanov, brothers who agreed to keep the store's name and to continue running it as Valentino did.
"We want to leave it just the way it was," said Levi Babakhanov, 26, a Forest Hills resident, who took over the shop with his 34-year-old brother on Aug. 1. "The clients are used to it."
Customers may notice more sterling silver jewelry, which Babakhanov said he ordered because it offers the shine of platinum without the cost. Silver rings start at less than $100, while diamond-studded pieces sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
Babakhanov also expects to do a brisk business in Rolex watches. The store will continue repairing jewelry and replacing watch batteries as well.
The brothers, who are originally from Russia, previously owned jewelry stores in Phoenix, Ariz., but this is their first New York shop.
Babakhanov said he likes the location on Fulton Street, between the South Street Seaport and World Trade Center, because it draws international tourists as well as local residents and workers.
"You get to meet a lot of nice people," he said of his trade. "You see a lot of different people from all over the world."
Seaport Jewelry, 50 Fulton St., is offering a grand opening sale of 30 to 50 percent off all jewelry.