On April 18, 1939, Marcus Joy “M.J.” Christensen opened his first jewelry shop inside a drugstore on First and Fremont. The family owned business eventually grew enough to open its own store on Fremont, where business exploded; the store was often filled with the likes of showgirls and movie stars like William Powell.
Much has changed over the past 80 years. MJ Christensen Diamonds has relocated to over a dozen locations in that time, and has since been bought by couple Cliff and Darlene Miller, who originally hail from Georgia. But the two say that the store’s spirit remains the same.
“Family values, community-oriented,” Cliff Miller said. “I wanted the focus to be on the relationship first.”
A long-lasting legacy
It’s no small feat for a small business to last 80 years. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 33 percent of small businesses make it past 10 years.
As for MJ Christensen, “I can’t see an end to it,” Cliff Miller said.
Small, local businesses like MJ Christensen make up the lion’s share of the jewelry industry. About 90 percent of the specialty jewelers in the U.S. generate less than $2.5 million in annual sales, and most only operate one or two stores, according to the International Diamond Exchange.
Cliff Miller said the business has made it through the years because of its expertise and focus on customers.
“You’re becoming part of the fabric of the relationship,” he said. “I love that.”
Brenda Bogue, a Las Vegas resident who’s been shopping at MJ Christensen for more than a decade, said the Millers do a great job at making their customers feel at-home.
“We love that MJ Christensen is a locally owned store and not a national chain,” she said. “We love supporting our local community and shopping there.”
The Millers said they try to accommodate for all types of customers — the price range at the store runs anywhere from $19 to $900,000, and the store sells everything from engagement rings and watches to fashion jewelry.
Darlene said the entrance of the store — at the intersection of West Charleston Boulevard and South Rampart Boulevard — is made to look as welcoming as possible. A set of chairs faces the front doors, a living room-style setup that lets guests know they can get comfortable and feel at home.
“Our business is built on a relationship, and this is symbolic of when you come in, let’s get to know each other,” Cliff Miller said.
Challenges in the industry
The Millers said the business has had some hardships in its 80 years.
The couple first became owners of the store in 2000, when they bought 70 percent of the business. Seven years later, they took full ownership.
Then, the recession hit.
It was “devastating,” Cliff Miller said. “It cut our business in half.”
Cliff Miller said it was the Las Vegas community’s support that helped the company make it through the economic downturn.
But that doesn’t mean things are back to normal in the jewelry industry; IBISWorld data shows that the jewelry and watch wholesaling industry revenue dropped 1.8 percent over the past five years as the price of precious metals continue to be volatile.
But Cliff Miller is optimistic for the business’ future.
“Diamonds are in vogue again,” he said, pointed to several recent high-profile engagement rings from such celebrities as Lady Gaga and Katherine Schwarzenegger.
And while it may not be Georgia, Darlene Miller said they’re happy they ended up as members of the Las Vegas community.
“It’s definitely our home,” she said.