October 03, 2012 - Buck and Joan Kopietz started selling jewelry in 1973 with an inventory of five necklaces and thirty-three rings, after thirty-nine years in business they have a lot more jewelry and a lot of memories.
"It's not the possessions in our lives that make us smile, it's the people," Joan said. After almost 40 years of living in Clarkston, designing custom jewelry, and getting to know guests at her bed and breakfast, Joan and Buck have had many opportunities to smile.
The Kopietz's jewelry store started on 3 E. Washington street, moved to 20 S. Main, and then to its current destination at 64 S. Main. Not only has it changed locations, but it has also taken on a new name: Silver Kiss. It was previously known as Tierra Fine Jewelers. Besides watches, earrings, and bracelets, Silver Kiss used to carry art supplies and gifts too.
What keeps Buck and Joan going after so many years of transformations? "We're stubborn," said Joan with a laugh. "When we start a project, we don't quit."
According to Joan and Buck, running a jewelry shop isn't always easy. When they started in 1973, their revenues barely covered rent, and in a few years, their store almost went up in flames during a fire that started at Morgan's.
"People started coming to the store in droves," said Buck who remembers the fire vividly. Clarkstonites gathered up the shop's products and helped get them out of the store. People even threw materials out of the windows to others catching it below.
"It's one of those things that's telling about a small community," said Joan. "People were helping out just to save our business." Luckily, the Kopietz's store wasn't damaged in the fire, and only one crystal glass was broken.
It wouldn't be the last time people around town would offer their help. Buck and Joan fondly remember a stream of rattling shopping carts borrowed from Rudy's carrying the contents of their jewelry store down the road to 64 South Main. The movers were members of the community who volunteered to help the Kopietz's.
Among memories of big events, some little moments stay fresh in the minds of Joan and Buck. For instance, they'll never forget a woman who arrived at their shop crying. She brought a yellow gold band that belonged to her late husband and wanted Joan to create a custom ring binding her white gold wedding ring with his.
"I need to know about you and your husband," Joan told her. When the tearful customer explained they loved sailing, Joan knew just how to design the ring. The finished product was a ring of yellow and white gold forming two sails meeting around a diamond.
When the woman picked up her custom ring, she cried again, but this time the tears were joyous. Later Joan would redesign the piece of jewelry again, adding in birthstones, so the heirloom could be passed on to the woman's children.
Joan says she has the image of the person in mind when she makes their jewelry, which gives it a human touch. "You have to touch the heart," she said.
The drive of the Kopietzes to offer their customers specialized jewelry has not only led them to create sentimental pieces, it has also taken them as far as Antwerp to get diamonds.
They describe sitting at long tables sifting through bags of diamonds to pick out gems. After choosing among hundreds of carats of diamonds, the Kopietzes would come back to Clarkston and use the gems in their distinctive designs.
Like their customized necklaces and earrings, Buck feels Clarkston has a distinctive flavor. "People love to go downtown and know the shop owners and talk with them," he said.
The close relationship between costumer and storeowner "builds a fiber that lasts that you just don't get at a strip mall," said Joan.
But it isn't only what happens in the store that sets Silver Kiss apart, but the retail community in Clarkston. "You're not a single ship," Joan explained. To succeed in business, "you need to be a part of the fleet." Buck agrees, "Retail takes a community."
After 39 years, Joan and Buck have seen Clarkston's downtown grow from only two blocks. They remember what they've coined the "Camelot Era" in the 70s when the Mills Mall developed and people would come to shop during moonlight madness. There were farmers markets with truckloads of corn and film festivals where audiences could watch movies reflected on the wall of The Clarkston News.
They also remember the economic decline in the 80s when money dried up for businesses. "It got too hard to do business," said Joan who witnessed stores last only one or two years before moving on. "Three of the four corners [of downtown] were real estate companies – the fourth corner was Morgan's," she said.
Buck and Joan are pleased to see a resurgence of shops downtown these days, and even though it's been thirty-nine years, they hope to continue offering timeless services like customized engagement rings and watch repair while catering to local sports fans with wolf earrings and pendants.
Whether it's sterling silver from Italy or rubies and sapphires, after 39 years Joan and Buck Kopietz pride themselves on giving their customers a personalized experience they won't find anywhere else. To commemorate 39 years, they are throwing an anniversary celebration from October 17 to October 20. Find out more by following The Clarkston News.
Clarkston News reporter