TAMPA ó Ron Ackerman cherishes the deal he reached years ago to become the official jeweler of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And itís not just because the team is a perennial post-season contender, with all the potential that holds for extended sales opportunities at Ackermanís Jewelers.
"No matter what," Ackerman says, "this town loves the Lightning."
On game days, of course, the love reaches its peak.
"All you see here are Tampa Bay Lightning shirts, jerseys and hats," Ackerman said. "Everybody loves a winner."
It probably doesnít hurt that Ackerman Jewelers sponsors the "Kiss Cam" in Amalie Arena during Lightning home games.
Ackerman Jewelers, 5335 Ehrlich Road in north Tampa, specializes in engagement rings and other matrimonial accessories, but the store also carries quite an assortment of the shiniest Bolts bling.
There are silver or gold menís cuff links starting at about $65 and silver earrings starting at about $50. You can spend a whole lot more, too, he said, depending on the market price of gold.
"We also have a big gold charm with the Lightning logo."
Whatís more, people associated with the team also shop Ackermanís Jewelers year round.
"We just had Tyler Johnsonís parents in here last Saturday," Ackerman said, speaking of the Lightning center.
Former Bolt Martin St. Louis "was our biggest customer."
"When he was here, he would call me on my cell phone at 8 a.m. to ask me to come in early so he could pick up a Breitling watch for one of the guys on the team. There was a trainer who had his 1,000th game and all the guys pitched in for a Breitling watch."
St. Louis, he said, "was so good to us. Everyone on the team went to him for advice on jewelry."
Brian Bradley, the Boltís first all-star, was in recently for an engagement ring because his daughter was getting married.
Other regulars are Dave Andreychuk, former Lightning captain and current vice president, as well as team co-founder and NHL Hall of Famer Phil Esposito, now the Boltsí radio color announcer.
"Espo was in last month," said Ackerman. "He comes by every couple of weeks. He is one of the funniest men I ever met."
The bond between Ackerman and Esposito runs deeper than jeweler and customer: Both men lost a child and Esposito is helping out with the Jason Ackerman Foundation, which has provided more than 200 scholarships in honor of Ackermanís son. Jason Ackerman died in an accident 12 years ago at age 21.
"For my wife and I, this was a way to get through the worst thing a parent can imagine," Ackerman said. "Espo is going to participate in our August bowlathon. He said he canít wait to get out his bowling ball. He is going to help raise quite a bit of money."
Ackerman credits much of his business success to his partnership with the Lightning and its transofrmational owner Jeff Vinik, who also is spearheading a $3 billion development project in downtown Tampa.
"The bottom line is that to be connected to Jeff Vinik and the Tampa Bay Lightning is the best move I ever made in the seven years since he has been here," Ackerman said. "As soon as you mention you are the official jeweler of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the credibility is amazing. It takes it to a whole other level."
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] Follow @haltman.