Longtime local jeweler leaves downtown

July 09, 2008 12:00 am
Eileen Peterson, owner of Eileen Peterson Jewelers on H Street, cleans out a display case in her storefront. She is moving out of her downtown location to work out of her home in Gasquet. (The Daily Triplicate/Nicholas Grube).
Eileen Peterson, owner of Eileen Peterson Jewelers on H Street, cleans out a display case in her storefront. She is moving out of her downtown location to work out of her home in Gasquet. (The Daily Triplicate/Nicholas Grube).

By Kelley Atherton

Over 30 years, Eileen Peterson has seen a lot of businesses move in and out of Crescent City's downtown.

Now as the retail center seems to be on the verge of a resurgence, the owner of Eileen Peterson Jewelers has decided it's time to retire, at least partly. She won't have a storefront anymore, but will continue to make custom jewelry from her home in Gasquet.

With this economy, "it's adapt or die," Peterson said. The economy is bad, gas prices are driving up the price of nearly everything and gold has tripled in the last year from $300 an ounce to $850.

"Me and the ever-changing world," she said.

It's not financially feasible to keep the store open, she said, plus she's getting older. However, Peterson said she still wants to provide her services to her loyal customer base.

Last Monday, as Peterson cleaned up her store at 330 H St., she talked about moving to Del Norte County with her husband in the 1970s and her transition from a teacher to goldsmith.

When Peterson opened her first store in what's known as the mini-mall by 2nd Street in 1978, a lot of people told her she wouldn't make it, she said.

"I survived Wal-Mart," she said, referring to the discount jewelry sold at the chain.

She had finished her last order that Monday morning for an old friend—an engagement ring and wedding band soldered together.

Creating new pieces out of older jewelry is her specialty.

A lot of people don't just walk into a jewelry store and pick out a piece of jewelry anymore, Peterson said. Customers want something unique and custom-made.

"The way I survived was going back to custom jewelry," Peterson said. "I'm going to do what I wanted to do when I started."

Peterson designs mainly gold pieces, but also does repairs, restores antiques or can reuse the gold or stones from a piece of jewelry.

Jewelry is not a necessity in life, she said, but people still celebrate special occasions with it.

"They're bringing me the materials," Peterson said about customers asking her to re-create older jewelry. "I can remake it into something else. That makes it affordable."

However, the jewelry business has changed over the years.

"People are wearing jewelry, but not replacing it," she said. "They take care of what they have."

Making jewelry started off as a hobby for Peterson in the early 1970s—her husband was a silversmith and she discovered that she had a knack for it.

"For a long time I secretly wanted to be a commercial artist," she said with a grin.

She was an English teacher in Los Angeles, but during her summers off, she and her husband, Keith, would come up to Del Norte.

"We threw the pets in the car and went camping," Peterson said. "The more we camped, the more we didn't want to be in L.A."

At first, she taught Tai Chi at College of the Redwoods-Del Norte. She designed some pieces for Keith and started selling at craft fairs in the Bay Area. Soon they opened the store in the mini-mall.

"Now I'm just a craftsman," Peterson said. "I'm so busy now doing custom work, I don't sell out of the case."

While Peterson is moving on in her career, other people are just beginning. And that's what Crescent City needs, Peterson said.

"I hope they do well and the downtown is restored to its former glory; when you could actually shop," she said. "My time has passed."

Customers can reach Peterson at 954-2200.