UPDATED — Jerry Burnell had a vision 34 years ago when Rock Road was a two-lane country road.
Burnell had been selling jewelry on the art show circuit for five years when he decided to rent a vacant lot at 555 N. Rock Road that had nothing but wire around the property.
“I knew this was the direction the town was coming,” he says.
Burnell opened Burnell’s Creative Gold jewelry store there, and he says it wasn’t long before he realized that when he one day wanted to retire, the best people to take over would already be in his shop.
“I put together (a) very capable group of people and basically have tried to work myself out of a job for the past 10 years, and I have succeeded,” Burnell says.
Manager Robin Lies and jeweler Nathan Regan are now the principal owners of the shop. Burnell will continue to work there up to 20 hours a week, but he’s no longer an owner.
“The financial part won’t be my responsibility in the future, which doesn’t hurt my feelings,” he says.
His wife, Johnna Burnell, joined the business 14 years ago, and she has been gradually retiring with her husband.
“It’s been a beautiful transition,” Lies says.
“You know, we all work really well together, and it’s just kind of a team effort, and it just always kind of has been,” she says. “It’s such a fabulous store, and it’s done so well for so long. It was a great opportunity for everyone.”
Through the years, Burnell says business has been up and down.
He says 2007 and 2008 were the beginning of a tough time, but Burnell says the last four years have been the best in the history of the store. The high price of gold helped. Burnell says it was more than that, though.
“The store matured quite nicely,” he says.
The future, he says, is “quite bright.”
Burnell remembers hearing predictions 20 or 25 years ago that independent jewelry stores would be out of business by 2000.
“Actually, that’s the strongest segment of the jewelry industry right now,” he says. “We can fluctuate with the situation at hand a lot quicker than a big chain store can.”
Burnell started the store with what you might call a lot of flexibility in his approach.
“I built my own equipment,” he says.
He used two upside-down flower pots on a Bunsen burner for a kiln.
“I have a funny background for a jeweler,” Burnell says.
He has almost enough credits for a chemistry degree, almost enough for a master’s degree in business, and he has minors in physics, math and biology.
“It all works,” Burnell says.
“He’s just an exceptional man,” Lies says.
Burnell says, though, it’s time for some new ideas, drive and youth in the business.
“I need to take a slight step to the side to get out of their way,” he says. “I’m 69 years old. It’s time.”