A Downtown Jeweler With a Different Vibe

·8 min read

For sisters Jennifer Gandia and Christina Gandia Gambale, the second-generation owners of Greenwich St. Jewelers, it’s a pivotal time for their business.

A new, 1,550-square-foot store, which retains elements of old New York architecture while incorporating contemporary interior design and artwork, opened last month in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood, replacing the former 450-square-foot location on Trinity Place. With the opening, designers have been added to the assortment, and changing attitudes toward jewelry, by both men and women, have been spurring sales in what’s been tough times, particularly for small businesses.

“Diamond fashion jewelry is having a moment,” said Jennifer. “Diamond tennis necklaces, diamond bracelets — pieces people used to think of as occasion wear, they’re wearing them much more casually now, every day. Rappers and hip-hop culture have always been big supporters of diamonds and diamond jewelry but it’s gone beyond that. Now you see country music stars, all kinds of pop stars and movie stars that are younger, hipper, more gender fluid, wearing lots of fine jewelry.”

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Bridal, always a stable category at Greenwich St. Jewelers, is experiencing growth and in other jewelry categories, the average ticket and the amount of transactions are going up, according to the sisters. In addition, they’ve noticed increased self-purchasing by women.

“Things that were traditionally gifts, she’s now buying for herself to enjoy,” Christina said.

The new Greenwich St. Jewelers on Reade Street in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood. - Credit: Tom Sibley
The new Greenwich St. Jewelers on Reade Street in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood. - Credit: Tom Sibley

Tom Sibley

The sisters consider it kismet that their new store, at 93 Reade Street, is housed in an 1857 cast iron building, the Obsidian House, which was once occupied by a jewelry manufacturer. The facade has been restored and inside, 11-foot tall, gold-leaf arches guide a shopper through, separating the collections of colored gemstones, private brands, and diamond pieces. For a relatively small store, there’s a sense of discovery, as if in a gallery, as a visitor passes under the arches, by the original exposed brick walls and encounters a painting by East Village artist Rosalie Knox and a plaster wall installation by Brooklyn muralist Mason Nye.

“One of the main directions we gave to the architect [Maori Hughes of the firm MAOarch] was we wanted the store to be a blend of the old and new, with a little bit of edge too, a lived-in feeling,” said Jennifer. “It feels like walking through a chic railroad apartment.”

Engagement and wedding pieces are displayed in the “great room” in the back, where there is also a private consultation area. Overall, it’s a mix of casual to high jewelry, emerging brands as well as those that aren’t widely distributed, and exclusive pieces. Customizing is also offered.

Over 40 brands and designer are carried including Alice Cicolini, Eva Fehren, Marla Aaron, Melissa Joy Manning, Single Stone, Sylva & Cie, TenThousandThings and Wwake. The sisters said they’re “committed” to using responsibly sourced diamonds, gemstones, metals and production.

A wedding band designed in-house by Greenwich St. Jewelers.
A wedding band designed in-house by Greenwich St. Jewelers.

No matter that Greenwich St. Jewelers isn’t actually located on Greenwich Street. It’s the name that Jennifer and Christina’s parents, immigrants from Puerto Rico, gave to the business when the couple founded it 46 years ago on Greenwich Street. The sisters feel a sentimental attachment to the name their parents brought to the business, and after so many years, there’s brand-name recognition.

After 9/11, with the area’s devastation and structural damage to the store, they had to move the business to Trinity Place, not far away, creating a year-long hiatus in the operation.

“When we first opened on Trinity Place, it seemed like a good location,” said Jennifer. “But our lease was coming up. We needed more space, and due to changes in the neighborhood, Hurricane Sandy and the pandemic, the spot started to feel quite out of the way, with not much retail or services around. People came to that spot specifically to see us. We had little walk-by traffic. We didn’t want to move too far. We liked being downtown. We really feel like we are a downtown brand. We looked at SoHo, NoHo, FiDi. Ultimately, TriBeCa felt like the right spot because of how strong the neighborhood is in terms of independent retail.”

“With all the galleries and creativity here, we felt we would blend in very well,” Christina said. There’s also a pediatrician, a dentist, Jacadi children’s clothing, Pure Barre workout studio and Heyday facials, restaurants on the block — and no direct competition nearby.

With its one store and website, Greenwich St. Jewelers generates $7 million to $8 million in annual sales. There’s a staff of 15, in sales, production and marketing, and there are two jewelers for repairs, custom work and bridal designs. The sisters want to grow the team to keep the store open six days a week instead of five.

Christina is in charge of sales and operations, while Jennifer oversees branding, marketing and creative areas. “Christina has her eye on the data and I got my eye on where things are going,” Jennifer said.

“We do the buying together,” she added. “We have really different tastes,” with Christina leaning to the classic side of design and Jennifer, the avant grade. “That makes our selection unique. We agree on having a very broad aesthetic. That’s something we curate very consciously.”

Asked if it can be challenging for family to work together, Jennifer replied, “I don’t think we’ve had any major differences. We identified early on if we let family dynamics get in the way of what the business needed, it would kneecap us. We have made a very conscious effort to not only to work together but to work with mentors and coaches. The jewelry industry is full of family businesses where you can see very clearly the dynamics getting in the way of the business.”

“We have always been open to mediation when needed and open to hearing other perspectives,” Christina added. “That’s helped us find that common ground.”

The sisters have at times worked with Scull, a former independent jewelers consultancy, and with Dr. Steven Dranoff of D&D Industrial Consultants. “It’s part coaching and consulting; sometimes it feels like therapy,” said Jennifer.

“When something happens, it’s about quickly putting our heads together and understanding how we have to pivot,” said Christina. “Jennifer and I work incredibly well together in the face of adversity to really look at the situation. Being open to shifting, when something is in front of you, has been a real key to our success. The worst thing for a business is when it feels like you can’t change. That’s one thing we were taught at a young age and we’re very good at.”

“We are children of immigrants that came to this country to make a better life for themselves. That meant doing whatever it took to survive,” said Jennifer. “That’s been built into our family DNA.” Now, fortunately, having been through 9/11, [Hurricane] Sandy and the Great Recession, it’s not a matter of surviving in business anymore. It’s about continuing to grow it.

“Our parents never asked us to come into the business. They actually didn’t want us to,” said Jennifer. “They saw what they did as very difficult work, that took all they had. Even though we spent time in the store, on summer break or holidays, it was really just to keep us busy. I went to F.I.T. I wanted to work in fashion. I was working at my dream job — PR manager for Nars. I also felt like ‘is that it? And then after 9/11, my parents really needed help when they reopened the store. It was so difficult. It was really a ghost town in that area. I would just go in and help them; I have marketing experience. I knew what to do, how to communicate with their clients. I thought I would be there for a year. That was my plan. I discovered there was so much to do. We did a get a number of grants which helped us build a website and bring technology to the store. A lot of the processes they were doing by hand. I put them on the computer. I felt fulfilled. I felt excited about what I was doing. I never left. Jewelry became much more interesting to me.”

Meanwhile, Christina, who was working in finance, started sensing that corporate America wasn’t her thing, and jewelry was. While studying at the Gemological Institute of America she worked weekends in the store. After getting her G.I.A. degree, she worked at Temple St. Clair and Mouawad, learning wholesaling, and later joined her sister and her parents at Greenwich St. Jewelers.

Despite her parents discouraging her from joining the business, “It felt like to put my talents into this familial business, grow it and partner with my sister, and see what we could do together, was a natural transition.”

Sapphire stretch bracelets from the Chroma private brand at Greenwich St. Jewelers.
Sapphire stretch bracelets from the Chroma private brand at Greenwich St. Jewelers.

 

 

 

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