“I remember the first day I walked in here,” said the owner of Gittelson Jewelers in downtown Minneapolis, which marked its 34th anniversary Wednesday.
“I was so excited that I finally had my own business,” said Gene Gittelson, who’d worked at Dayton’s, Powers and National Jewelers before “I found out there was a jeweler that didn’t like being downtown and wanted to leave. I came here and stood by that elevator for two hours one day and watched the traffic and said, ‘That’s it!’ ”
For the past eight years, Gene and his son Michael Gittelson have been sharing the 297-square-foot space with Molly Braun, the general manager, who sometimes witnesses familial squabbling. (See below.)
“Of course, it gets tight in here,” Braun said. “You get three customers and it’s like you can’t even hear yourself think. But it works. You know, diamonds aren’t huge, so we don’t need a lot of space.”
I have often wondered why the shop has signs that read “Gittelson’s” and “Gittelson” — not that I mind anything that reduces the chance of me getting a name wrong.
“Signs are expensive,” said Braun. “It’s Gittelson, but the sign says Gittelson’s.”
Q: Gene, can you still spot a fake diamond?
GG: Of course. Right away.
Q: How has business changed in 34 years?
GG: There are more people coming through the skyway now. They are more educated on what they want. They like to see fresh merchandise all the time.
Q: Has anybody ever proposed here?
GG: Yes. I’ve had three proposals in the store.
Q: Have you ever noticed a customer buying something for his girlfriend and his wife?
GG: I sure have. Nothing [as in the details of these transactions] leaves the store at all. We’re very private.
Q: Michael, do you really remove all the jewelry before you put up the black curtains at closing time?
MG: Correct. Make sure everything is clean, maintained, put away in the proper place so we can have it ready the next day.
Q: Gene, how often have you met celebrity customers here after hours?
GG: Six, seven times maybe in the years.
Q: Drop some names for me.
GG: Kirby Puckett, Phylicia Rashad, Ahmad Rashad, Denny Green, Tom Kelly, Tom Brunansky, Bruce Springsteen.
MG: Fred Hoiberg, Troy Hudson, great people like Ahmad Rashad.
GG: I said that, right? Geez.
MB: Did you get that [exchange]?
Q: Molly, how often do you see skirmishes between these guys?
MB: Every so often. I’m the peacemaker.
Q: Molly, how often does Michael get on his dad’s nerves?
MB: Could be the other way around just as much. It works.
MG: If it wasn’t for this man here [Michael puts his hand on father’s shoulder], I wouldn’t be here today, and I’m very fortunate.
Q: What would you do for a living, Michael, if being a jeweler hadn’t fallen into your lap by virtue of who your father is?
MG: I would be doing some volunteer work for the community, some film work, too. I enjoy shooting film and telling stories.
Q: Gene, what accounts for your success?
GG: Being nice to everybody who walks into our store. We like to make friends with our customers. We like to take good care of them. Not only do they come back, they refer us. We get referrals every single day.
Q: Did Prince ever shop here, Gene?
GG: Once. In the store, yes, he did — 3 o’clock on a Sunday morning. I can say that. I have been three times [to Paisley Park on business appointments].
Q: Did he give you a tour of Paisley?
GG: He didn’t, but somebody did.
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.