March-April 2014 | STEPPING STONE




The sixth-oldest continuously run jewelry store in America looks forward to a bright future with the addition of new key employee, Ben Bowne

Written By: Jonathan Westman | Photographer: Grant L. Gursky

Susan, I know that Kuhn's Jewelers was founded in 1853. Would you share the chain of ownership from then to present-day?
Kuhn’s was started in 1853 by a Mr. A. W.W. Woodcock, who sold it to Mr. G.M. Fisher in 1906. My grandfather, John Kuhn, worked for Mr. Fisher and then purchased the store from him in 1923. My dad, Jack Purnell, came to work for the family in 1953, and I came home from a career in marketing in NYC in 1995. I have never looked back.  
As Kuhn's celebrates its 161st anniversary, making it the sixth-oldest continuously operated jewelry store in America, what factors do you feel account for the company's longevity, Susan?
I think our longevity is due to our long history of treating customers well and providing them with a quality product and a value they can count on. We go the extra mile for every customer, whether they’re celebrating their 50th anniversary or need a battery replaced. We want every customer to feel well cared for.
What lines/designers do you carry, Susan?  Would you also comment on the qualities these products offer?
We try to carry lines that we are proud to put in our Kuhn’s boxes, ones that are not available at the “malls.” For example, we carry two of the top bridal lines, Tacori and Simon G, both of which are handcrafted in California and made with only the finest quality diamonds and metals. We carry Ball automatic watches, where the saying “You’re on the ball” came from, when its founder, Webster Ball, was hired to make a timepiece to keep the railroads in sync. We carry Michele Watches and the signature line of Citizen. We sell lots of Honora and Brogan pearls (girls love their pearls!). Alwand Vahan silver and gold bracelets are a real favorite among our lady customers because they can be worn with jeans or suits, and they are so comfortable, you forget you have them on. 
As the third generation of your family to run Kuhn's, what has given you the most satisfaction?
I love that we are a part of so many memorable times in the lives of our customers. We help them memorialize those events with something that will stand the test of time. It is so thrilling to sell a 50th anniversary present to a couple who bought their engagement ring here; just to think how long we’ve been a part of their lives is so fulfilling.
Please describe Ben's family affiliation, business background and what roles he'll be playing in the future of the business.
Ben has been a part of our Kuhn’s family since I married his dad in 1980. For the last eight years, Ben has been an active Realtor in Savannah, Ga., selling both commercial and residential properties. His most recent experience as director of marketing and PR for one of Savannah’s largest real estate brokerages will be a huge help to us as we enter the unknown waters (to me) of social-media marketing and attempt to reach the younger demographic. He has already taken over most of our advertising, writing and producing our Christmas ad, which was definitely a step outside the box for our 161-year-old business. We had a terrific Christmas, so I think Ben’s creativity will play a big part in our future success. He has also quickly come up to speed on the technical side, recently earning his Gemological Institute of America Diamond Grading certification.  
Ben, please tell us your feelings about joining the family business.
When Susan called with the opportunity to jump in headfirst and learn the business from her, it didn’t take long for my wife, Jenna, and I to make a decision. It was bittersweet leaving Savannah and our businesses behind, but I’m honored to join a 161-year-old tradition, and we love life on the Eastern Shore — a great place to raise a family and enjoy all kinds of activities. I’m pleased that I can apply my experience in both sales and marketing to making the next generation of Kuhn’s customers as happy, curious and satisfied as their predecessors. In the six or so months that I have been in the store, I’ve seen firsthand how Kuhn’s customers are really like an extended family. "Additionally, Susan has assembled a great team in [manager] Diana Barber, Chuck Church [sales], Gayle Widdowson [internal aesthetics auditor] and our part timers. These wonderful people bring a lot to the table, and I’m thrilled to be learning from them."
How would you describe the Kuhn's experience?
Ben: Wow. This is really a great question for our customers. Let’s put it on Facebook and see what they say! I think that as a customer, you know that Kuhn’s will go out of its way to ensure your satisfaction, educate you about your desired purchase (as much as you want to know) and stand behind each and every item we sell. As I mentioned, Susan has done a great job bringing new designer lines into the store, so you never know what you may discover when you come in. Most important, you will have FUN while shopping our store and, if we are doing our job right, it will be a memorable experience that will make you want to come back and visit with us many times over!
Talk of revitalizing Downtown Salisbury has momentum. What's your vision for the area?
Susan: My dad used to say, “You don’t remember towns by the malls they have but by what their Main Streets look like.” Our Main Street has such potential with its lovely historic buildings. In the 1970s, we tried to make it like a mall, prohibiting car traffic. That was the death knell in my opinion. Salisbury has a park! We need a vibrant downtown, and the only way we are going to have one is if we allow for easy accessibility and visibility to what is here! I say, get rid of the statues and planters and bring on the cars!  
Ben: I’ve started to get to know some of the folks making a fresh push at revitalization, and I have to say, they are very impressive people who are putting their money and their time where their mouths are! As a lifelong hack musician, I’m excited about the prospect of the old firehouse becoming a music venue. Any successful revitalization rotates on a vibrant cultural axis – if you’ve been to Asheville, N.C. or Savannah, Ga. or Lexington, Ky. (to name a few), you know what I mean. At the time of this interview, Kuhn’s co-created and is sponsoring a Singer/ Songwriter Stroll featuring Eastern Shore musicians playing original Eastern Shore music. Just one small way we can help feature our natural cultural resources and let them shine! As you know, we are fond of things that shine!

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