Cover Story

King’s Jewelry is a Legacy Business Gem

King’s Jewelry of Old Town Alexandria Achieves Legacy Status

Alexandria, VA – Alexandria is steeped in history. In Old Town, we are surrounded by structures and streets, some dating back two centuries or more, and institutions that keep the founder’s memories alive. Safeguarding our past lures thousands of visitors worldwide every year, contributing greatly to our economy and well-being.

But there is also living history, especially in our diverse and thriving businesses, some of which have been in business through good times and bad for many decades.

The Zebra Press has established a Legacy Business Program. Each month, we will profile an Alexandria business based on its longevity—how long it has contributed to the community’s economic vitality.

Have you been in business for 25 years? This is the Bronze level. Fifty years? Silver. Seventy-five years? Gold. And for 100 years or more: Platinum. Yes, we have century businesses in our town. In addition to coverage in the Zebra, each recognized business will be awarded a Business Longevity Medallion to demonstrate its staying power in the great community of Alexandria, Virginia.

Beauty, Quality, Integrity & Value have resulted in customers returning over the generations. (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

When Norman “Brad” Bradford opened the doors to his family business at 609 King’s Street, historic Old Town Alexandria was not quite the interesting and stylish showcase it is today—not by far! In 1962, Bradford, an eager young salesman—who would be the proprietor of his own business by 1978—and King’s Jewelry were preparing to bloom and flourish.

Looking back in time to 1955, the jewelry store did have commercial neighbors in the heart of Old Town (King & Washington) and there was plenty of foot traffic with several women’s dress stores, men’s stores, banks, hardware stores, drug stores, restaurants, and theaters. What was missing then was the active and vibrant waterfront with panoramic river views.

Young Brad Bradford in 1963 and Brad today, with 61 years invested in King’s Jewelry, 46 of them as owner. (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

In the mid-’50s, the shop just east of King’s Jewelry at 609 King Street was the Cannon Shoe Store, where Bradford, the young yet savvy shoe clerk, got his start in merchandising and quickly learned the ropes of selling and marketing. Bradford recalls himself as a much younger man reminiscing his long hair (as he smiles and swipes his balding head), who had his eye on the jewelry store next door, called even then King’s Jewelry. Fondly, he described the jewelry business combined with a gift shop stocked with radios, appliances, and other items.

Continuing his life-changing story, when the Cannon Shoe Store manager told Bradford he had just turned down a job offer from the then-owner of the jewelry store, Bradford asked for the go-ahead to proceed and applied for the job at King’s Jewelry.

With a self-effacing chuckle, he continued: “When I asked if I could apply for the job, I was told to get a haircut and a suit, which I did, and then I was making $10 more a week!”

Bradford said he started his new job by learning everything he could about jewelry. Then, when the owners were thinking of retirement 15 years later, he started to dream of what he wanted to do with the store. He successfully acquired the business in 1978, a legacy milestone. Along with an antique, heavy large safe, one of the family’s valued historic artifacts on display at the business is an original handwritten, paper receipt for $1.10 for “jewelry” dated Nov. 26, 1955. “That was long ago!” he laughed.

Brad and Cathy talk business with Zebra’s Susan Sullivan. (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

The purchase of the physical property that he was able to accomplish in 1985 marked yet another goal achieved while securing the store’s future by buying the actual building and land, thus controlling potential rent increases.

“I sold the store’s old inventory at 10 cents on the dollar just to get it cleared out,” Bradford recalled, excitedly remembering one of the first experiences involved with transforming his business. His dreams for the grand opening of his own King’s Jewelry store eventually were manifested in October of 1978. “Then, I started buying things—my choice of merchandise—and I worried so much,” he admitted, “But the first Christmas turned out to be a success.”

Brad and Tari with the old box safe, a memento of the store’s opening days before Brad started at King’s Jewelry. (Photo: Susan McLain Sullivan)

Blossoming and flourishing continued for the Bradford family when he brought on board, in 1983, his daughter Tari (Stribling); in 1986, his wife Cathy; in 2012, his son Andrew; and in 2016, his son Gregory. As the years passed by and the family grew up and joined the business, the number of sales associates named Bradford also multiplied. Tari (Bradford) Stribling, the first to join the staff, celebrated her 40th anniversary with the family store in June last year. She is followed in seniority by Cathy with 38 years, Andrew with 12 years, and Gregory with seven years. Perhaps due in part to their strong familial relationships, the Bradfords credit their business’s growth to continuing successful relationships with its customers who return to see them as their families expand with anniversaries, birthdays, engagements, and weddings.

“One thing we notice is if we start with one generation, we see the next generation coming back,” explained elder son Andrew as he stepped away to greet a bubbly young couple coming through the door.

According to owner Bradford, the dedication to King’s Jewelry also applies to the “treasured staff” of six employees whose experience together with family, he notes proudly, adds up to more than 200 years of jewelry business in sales, repairs, and other areas of expertise. Among the sales associates are 20-year staffer Ken Shaulis and, in remaining order of seniority, Michael Harris, Stephen Coates, Nicky Bragin, and goldsmiths Catherine Rudacille and Susan Zamora.

Bradford’s selection of dazzling gold, platinum, and sterling silver jewels came in second to none, even in the beginning years. They were displayed differently back then in antique high-legged wood and glass compartments, which Bradford admits he was always eager to update.

Gregory Bradford helps this happy couple make a choice. (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

Those were soon replaced with stylish showcases, more to his standard and vision, perfected each year. Over the decades, the store’s updated interior enjoyed facelifts through several renovations, creating a beautiful and relaxing place to browse and shop for an array of merchandise from glistening diamond engagement and wedding rings, luxury watches, gifts of necklaces and bracelets, birthstone gems, estate jewelry, glistening silver frames and baby cups and keepsakes. Display posters of familiar faces of stars and brides add a glamorous aura to the premises. A beautiful 69th Anniversary Storewide Sale brochure beckoned from a wood desktop next to a colorful bouquet of tulips.

“In 2010, we gutted the whole front half of the store to put everything in floor cases so that all the items would be closer to the customer,” Bradford said, noting that none of the engagement and wedding rings are in wall-mounted display cases, but arranged in dark wood and glass cabinetry. Also evolving over the years is the increasing occurrence of customers co-designing jewelry—either in sketch or digital format—to capture the look they desire.

Also increasing is the desire to select and acquire quality luxury or legacy watches. His son Andrew noted that watch sales remain strong and growing in the D.C. area, perhaps in part due to people, such as high-level security government employees, being required to remove digital devices when entering and leaving certain high-security level offices in the region. Many people cannot bring digital to work.

The Bradfords: Cathy and Brad, with sons Gregory (left) and Andrew, and daughter Tari Stribling. (Photo: Susan McLain Sullivan)

“One thing unique to our area is that certain people cannot wear digital watches to the office due to security regulations and want more traditional timepieces,” he said. Among the store’s inventory are those widely advertised luxury watches such as Tag Heuer, Tissot, Shinola, and Seiko. But, as expected at King’s Jewelry, diamonds reign supreme, with customers seeking the band designs in ever-evolving colors and cuts, as well as the popular solo diamond in the center with custom details on the sides. By nature, diamonds and precious metals are always special commodities that the buyer wants to hold and see firsthand.

“With jewelry, you have to feel the weight of it,” explained Andrew Bradford with his mother Cathy agreeing that customers are discerning. “You have to see it sparkle,” she added.

These days, the polished storefronts along King Street stand together like varied gems in the well-designed setting of Old Town. With the 2000 millennium, the Bradford family began to team up as sales assistants and learned the business from him, Bradford explained with clear satisfaction. He said they all have gained the trust of newer generations of customers who purchase engagement and wedding rings, and distinctive gifts. And the rest—as is said when speaking of legacies—is history repeating itself, this time on King Street in Old Town Alexandria.

ICYMI: Tiffany Lee-Clarke Named Alexandria Schools Teacher of the Year

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button