October 17, 2016 - 5:52 pm
Jack Weinstein is definitely old school and part of a Las Vegas jewelry institution that’s closing after more than 52 years.
The 89-year-old Weinstein, who his daughter Polly refers to as the “everyman jeweler,” is retiring after the holidays before he turns 90 in February. It’ll be a change for Weinstein, who still works six days a week, eight hours a day at his Tower of Jewels on East Sahara Avenue.
Despite the long hours, Weinstein doesn’t view what he does as work but enjoyment. And he spends his days at the store with his wife of 47 years, Nancy, and four of his six children who work there.
“The key is to make sure you’re happy with yourself doing what you do and if you’re happy doing what you do, it’s not work,” Weinstein said. “I love work and love my customers. It’s a game that I play and when I make people happy, I’m happy.”
Weinstein grew up in the jewelry business in Detroit where he started working for his older brothers who started in jewelry repair before turning to retail sales. He didn’t like working for them because they didn’t listen to his ideas, and in 1963 he left to go to the West Coast where he sold brand watches to retail stores from his truck.
Weinstein’s customer in Las Vegas, Al Sanford, who owned Tower of Jewels, wanted to retire. Weinstein partnered with Sanford’s son, Ronnie, before ultimately taking over the entire business at 320 Fremont St. a short time later.
Weinstein soon learned the jewelry business isn’t without its perils.
Business was booming and the hot item 50 years ago was Native American jewelry that Weinstein made in his shop, but he could not keep up with the demand. He set up one factory and later two factories in Mexico to manufacture the jewelry and fly it to Southwest cities to sell to wholesalers. His workers saw Weinstein’s success and demanded double their pay. They went on strike in 1975 when he said he couldn’t comply.
“I couldn’t go to my apartment to get my stuff because they were there waiting for me,” Weinstein said. “I put a lot of gold and silver in a bank vault and left and didn’t come back for two months to get it.”
That prompted Weinstein to focus on Las Vegas, where he opened five more stores over the years and one in Fort Worth, Texas. He hired jewelers and manufactured all of the jewelry in his stores rather than buy it from wholesalers. That meant buying the gold and diamonds and fabricating metal by hand and putting the jewelry together. Not only did he sell retail goods in Las Vegas, but he acted as a wholesaler of his goods across the country.
Business was good, and Weinstein had as many as 100 employees at his peak. Between 2004 and 2007, he recorded more than $12 million in annual sales. Then the Great Recession hit and sales tumbled to $2 million to $3 million annually. Today, there are only 20 employees in his remaining operation.
Weinstein cites the economy and the internet for the decline that has taken jewelry stores such as his to one-third the number they once were. Jewelry is a luxury item and price points have come down because of the internet, he said.
“The volume has changed with the internet and people come in, look at price, and go shop online,” said his daughter Polly. “They can’t see the weight or the size of the stones and people get fooled by the price tag and don’t see that the quality is different.”
Polly said she and her three other siblings who work in the store, Lenny, Joey and Sean, haven’t decided what they will do but are checking out the jewelry market.
The focus now, said Polly, who helps with marketing, is honoring her father’s legacy and letting his customers know that he’s retiring. Customers love him and how he’s operated with integrity and treating everyone the same with tender care whether they come to the store wearing overalls or Gucci, she said.
“There are stories on Yelp of people who hardly had any money to spend and say how the boss, the owner, walked me around the whole store and treated me like I was a millionaire,” Polly said. “That’s who my dad is. He has a very special way with people and that’s how he got here. Every person has the same value.”
Polly said her dad has treated charities in town the same by giving freely over the years to anyone who called and asked something from him. He never said no, she said.
Charity is what Weinstein said he wants to do in his retirement. He wants to do whatever he can to help children, he said.
Weinstein said he wishes he didn’t have to retire because he enjoys what he does so much, but he also doesn’t want to work until the day he dies either.
“I would prefer to stay, but I’m 90,” Weinstein said. “How much time do I got? I’m definitely going to miss it. I dream every night what I am going to do and how much pleasure I had doing the business that I had. I will miss that and my children every day. We have a wonderful family and look out for each other. That makes it good.”