Jewelry stores in the 1950s were more than jewelry stores — they sold appliances and luggage, to draw people in after the war. Cameras were a big item in a jewelry store, Kodaks, with film.
Now today on South Third Street in downtown, a jewelry store sells a camera again, but it was used in-store to take pictures of watches and earrings, and like everything else in the store, it’s part of a genuine “everything must go” sale.
Garland Jewelers in downtown Renton will be closing after 65 years under Slotnik ownership. Current owner Gary Slotnik is retiring, along with his retirement comes an end of an era, and thoughts about the future of downtown Renton.
Garland has one of the oldest business licenses in the downtown area. The name of the store, Garland, goes back further than Gary can even track down.
“I’ve gone to the Renton Historical Society to look through old ads to find out how old the name actually is,” Gary said. “We had a customer bring in a high school yearbook from 1947, and there was an ad for Garland Jewelers. So I called (the school,) and they started taking ads from local businesses that same year, so the name is at least as old as that.”
Gary said his father, Jack Slotnik, bought the store from a Mrs. Williams. According to the tax and license division at the city, the license was issued on March 18, 1953. Jack moved the shop to it’s current location downtown in 1954.
Renton was booming at the time, Gary said, and there were as many as eight jewelry stores downtown. As a kid, Gary said the crowd of people in downtown Renton on a Friday night reminded him of Fifth Avenue in New York City.
“This was going to be the hub of south King County,” Gary said.
Then malls began, Southcenter included, and drew big stores like JCPenney away from many city main streets. After the early 1970s slump in Renton that came from Boeing layoffs, Gary’s father saw days where nobody would come in. Gary said it was the willingness of the property owner at the time to support the company during that low that kept it going.
In 1985 the store faced another obstacle, Jack Slotnik was 75 years old and ready to close the store. Gary Slotnik was in his 13th year as an architect, designing Nordstrom stores. He was feeling frustrated with his work, and had always been fond of the Jewelry business. He shocked his dad when he told him he wanted to switch careers and take on the jewelry store. But 33 years later, Gary is very happy he kept the business going all this time.
“The community is wonderful, there isn’t a nicer community,” Gary said. “We deal with some third generation customers, they’ve been very loyal and they are what I’ll miss the most about closing the store.”
Gary also kept the same logo throughout the years, even with encouragement to modernize it, because he enjoyed the tradition of it.
Marcie Palmer, of the Renton Chamber of Commerce, first met Gary 20 years ago, when she began to get more involved in the downtown events.
No matter which revitalization effort was underway downtown, she said they’ve always tried to support downtown businesses, and in turn Gary always supported and participated in any efforts being made downtown.
Gary was always so welcoming, she said, and happy to just have folks look around.
“I call them part of my village in raising my kids,” Marcie said.
Palmer has a treasured opal ring from her husband, that she said Gary has kept shining like new over the years.
Garlands had a landmark street clock that had been outside the store since the 1920s, before Slotniks owned it. That clock was knocked down in the 1990s after a truck hit it while leaving a parking spot. Customers still ask what happened to it. There was no way to repair it that ensured parts of the cast iron structure wouldn’t fall down again, Gary said.
The clock was iconic, Marcie said, and Garland Jewelers was too.
“I’m sad for downtown, but I’m happy for Gary. He’s worked long and hard,” Marcie said. “I’ve always called Garland, not just because it’s a jewelry store, it’s the sparkle for downtown, the jewel. And Cugini’s is too. But I think because Garland is right in the middle, the crown jewel, that’s what I’ve always said.”
Cugini Florists is one of those older Renton businesses, its license was issued in 1974.
If Garland is the crown jewel of downtown, it might be a hidden gem, as Gary said one common comment he gets from customers is they didn’t know it was there. The other comment is that Garland carries things customers don’t see at the mall. That’s key, Gary said.
Gary said mom-and-pop businesses will always have a place, downtown especially, but they need to rise to the challenges of today by utilizing social media and offering a unique inventory that you can’t get in a chain store. It’s up to independent businesses to adapt. He said he hopes Garland customers will support other local jewelers once it’s closed.
Gary thinks that businesses will only thrive going forward if the owners, property managers and city all work together to help thrive, and understand the nature of local retail, he said.
“If they ever get to that point where they’re all meshing, this community could just bustle, which is what we all want,” Gary said. “But if not, if one as a business owners all I care about is what I sell and I don’t care about what property owner thinks of outside, or if the property owner only cares about raising the rent and not maintaining the building itself or the city only thinks it can throw money at the downtown it’s not gonna work. They’ve tried all of those things.”
Gary has rode out the variety of changes in downtown the longest, Marcie said. She’s excited about the current changes for downtown’s future.
“It’s really coming together this time,” Marcie said.
The long time businesses owner’s are getting to retirement age, Marcie said, and when you don’t have someone to passes it to, they leave.
According to business license data for the downtown core, about 5 percent of businesses and nonprofits began before the 1960s, although some may have had to change legal entities over the years and are older than the issue date.
About 24 percent of businesses and nonprofits had licenses issued in 2017 and 2018, and 78 percent of all those licenses are from after 2000.
New businesses are ushering in an era of boutiques, Marcie said, looking at shops like Urban Sprout. Marcie’s excited to see the success of the 8-Bit Arcade downtown, and the younger vibes that will draw in long time residents as well as new young people.
“I look forward to something equally special, as what Garland has been to Renton, coming somewhere downtown,” Marcie said.
Garland Jewelers will close before the end of the year, Gary said, probably through Christmas.