Sometimes, things fall together so that a young man can go into business for himself. It doesn’t happen often in the jewelry industry, but it did for Noah Miller, who was 21 when he became sole owner of Baker’s Jewelry in Rushville, Ill., in June 2016.
“I was walking by one day and saw a ‘Going Out of Business’ sale,” says Noah, a lifelong resident of Rushville who had been in the store only one time before, four years prior. “A friend said, ‘You should check it out. You’d be good at it.’ So I walked in the day after Thanksgiving two years ago and started doing repair work that night.”
Noah had no experience in the jewelry business other than making and selling twisted-wire rings as a high school senior. Also in high school, he studied welding and later worked two years as a machinist and hobby blacksmith. All those skills transferred over as he began to learn the ins and outs of jewelry. “It’s all been on-the-job experience,” he says.
The previous owner of Baker’s Jewelry, Jack Baker, had taught at Gem City College in Quincy, an hour west of Rushville, and he took Noah under his wing. “He taught me individually at the store as I was in the process of buying it,” Noah says. “I’d be here with him, and we’d kind of have class for almost a year. He still comes in and teaches me, especially with watches, which I didn’t know a lot about. But the metal work came pretty easy.”
Jack and his wife, Judy, ran Baker’s Jewelry for 40 years in the same historic location before deciding to sell. Coincidentally, Jack also bought the business at a very young age, 22. The store, called Jones Jewelry at the time, was run by Bill Jones for 43 years before the Bakers bought it.
Under Noah’s ownership, the store remains Baker’s Jewelry. It’s one in a string of little buildings joined together in the town square and dates back to 1876. “We’re in historic downtown Rushville with a brick storefront,” Noah says. “It’s kind of neat. Cosmetically it’s a little outdated so I’ll be working on that.”
In many ways, Noah experienced good fortune along the journey to Baker’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in November last year.
The most complicated part of the buying process, he says, was the fact that he had no credit. “Trying to get a bank to give me that big of a loan was strenuous,” he says. “Two banks were within a block of me, but neither would do a loan. It took six tries before one of them, a local bank, would step out on a limb. The bank had dealt with the Bakers previously, so they knew what they were getting into.
“It would have made things easier if the store hadn’t closed,” Noah adds. “It would have been a smooth transition from one owner to the next. We still get people coming in who say they didn’t realize we were open again. We advertised in the local paper and TV, and that has helped to bring more customers in. Facebook helps, too.”
The Bakers introduced their successor on Facebook in a post that read in part: “BIG NEWS!!!!! Baker’s Jewelry has reopened under new ownership . . . Noah plans to continue to do all the service and repair work that Jack has done for their customers in the past. Jack and Judy will be working closely with Noah, so there will be a smooth transition through this change in ownership . . . The Bakers are hoping and asking that the community support Noah in the same way that they have supported them during their 40 years of business.”
The Retail Jewelers Organization (RJO) was a huge help in getting Noah established as well, especially considering the young owner was starting out with no credit. “RJO usually does not let members in right away, but I was grandfathered in because of Jack and Judy, who had a lifetime membership,” he says. “They talked to RJO about how they’d sold the store to me, how I was young and taking ownership. RJO took it to their meeting and determined they couldn’t do a lifetime membership but a regular membership. I was lucky to get grandfathered in. Without that, I wouldn’t have been able to get inventory for Christmas. Instead of paying individual vendors, I’d get one bill from RJO that could be split up into payments.”
Two years into his business venture, Noah has two employees plus family members chipping in: His grandmother, parents and sister all help in the store. “My grandma likes the bow machine,” Noah says. “She makes bows and decorates. My mom does the financials and taxes, and handles deposits. She also helps at the counter and does beading, and my sister does the same. Dad likes the engraving machine.
“We’re a small-town jewelry store,” Noah says. “We have bridal, silver, gold, gold-filled and watch lines. I’d like to put more of the pieces I make at home in here; I’m working with different metals.”
For Noah Miller, the future is wide open.