CLEARWATER — In the spacious conference room behind the bridal section, they sit in matching leather chairs, fielding customers’ calls, answering employees’ questions, overseeing their empire.
The showroom at Gold & Diamond Source is bustling this afternoon, a few days before Valentine’s Day.
“It’s our second busiest holiday, after Christmas,” says Steve Weintraub, looking at rows of gleaming glass cases framed by heart-shaped balloons. “We sell a few things online, but not much. Most people want to come see the jewelry.”
Steve and his wife, Julie, own the 11,000-square-foot business on Ulmerton Road and have worked together longer than they’ve been married. He does the buying, she manages marketing. Their five children, plus a dozen other relatives, are employees.
You probably recognize them: his silver hair and ice-blue eyes, her dark mane and slender neck, always dripping with diamonds.
Every week, they glitter on up to 500 TV commercials, reaching more than 100,000 people across Tampa Bay. Every day, their family portrait blankets the bottom of 1,420 bins at Tampa International Airport — smiling at more than 30,000 strangers.
Maybe you’ve run into them in person, at a Rays or Lightning game, where they have long held season tickets. Or met them at one of the ritzy fundraisers sponsored by Julie’s charity, HandsAcrosstheBay.org. Thousands of you have bought wedding rings from them. Hundreds have re-sold them after a divorce.
For 14 years, Steve and Julie have listened to other couples’ love stories.
This is the first time they have shared theirs.
• • •
“I first saw her when she was working at our Countryside store, it was February 1996. She was wearing a red dress and red lipstick. I noticed her right away,” Steve says. “But as soon as she saw me, she started laughing.”
“I knew he was the owner of the company. I’d heard all about him, but I’d never met him,” Julie says. “He came in with his girlfriend, a really pretty, buxom blonde in a super short skirt. She was just so what I’d thought she’d be, it made me laugh.”
Julie was married then, running Dogwater Cafe with her husband and working at the diamond store part time, because she loved jewelry. Her friends called her Jewels. Steve was divorced and had two sons.
Julie was born in England but grew up in Clearwater. In high school, she couldn’t afford to shop at the mall, so she wore thrift store shorts.
Steve had moved from New York to Atlanta, then to Clearwater, to paint sand dollars gold.
When Steve broke up with his blonde, Julie fixed him up with one of her friends. “When he met his second wife,” Julie says, “I knew it wouldn’t work.”
Steve had a third son with his second wife — all his boys look just like him. Julie and her husband had a son and daughter. For eight years, they say, they were just friends. “Then, in 2004, we both got divorced,” Steve says.
“We became each other’s shoulder to cry on,” Julie says.
He had been attracted to her for years. Her revelation didn’t come until later. “As soon as I started feeling it, I escaped to England to forget him,” she says.
That didn’t work.
“Whether I liked it or not,” she says, “I’d fallen in love with him.”
Their first date was at the Don Cesar, the historic hotel on St. Pete Beach. A few months later, she started helping manage his business. They moved into his 6,300-square-foot waterfront house in south St. Petersburg, blending their families like The Brady Bunch.
On Christmas Day 2005, Steve dropped to his knee in their kitchen and gave Julie a 4-carat princess cut ring. They married in May 2006, on the steps of the Don Cesar. Years later, Julie says, a customer came into the store and fell in love with her diamond. Steve didn’t have another like it. “So he sold mine right off my finger,” she says. “I cried all the way home.”
“I got you an upgrade,” he says, pointing to the yellow diamond winking from her ring finger: 8 carats. Twice as big.
“Every gift he’s given me has been jewelry,” she says.
Does she ever get tired of that?
“Are you kidding?”
• • •
The television commercials were Julie’s idea. Steve had only advertised on the radio. He didn’t want to be a public persona. She convinced him they should become their own brand.
Sure, it’s hard sometimes, she says. When they’re out to dinner arguing about home repairs, or at an event disagreeing about their new ad, “we try to take it away from where people can see us,” she says. For years, it’s been impossible to be anonymous.
Ask them how they do it: Manage a multimillion-dollar business, raise five kids, spoil two grandkids, spend almost every waking hour together — and they look at each other and laugh.
“I like getting away, out in nature. I like trees and birds better than anything,” Julie says. “Except diamonds.”
Steve escapes to a man cave at home. And when they really need space, one of them retreats to their condo in Feather Sound.
“We’re trying to get used to each other in a whole new way,” Julie says. Their youngest daughter just turned 18 and moved out, so for the first time, their nest is empty. Except for Julie’s dad, who moved in with them.
“We’re selling the house I’ve had for 30 years, moving to a condo in downtown St. Pete,” Steve says.
“It’s been a lot harder than I thought,” says Julie.
Last week, Steve and Julie took a trip, just the two of them, to a gem show in Tucson, Ariz.
That’s when he picked out her Valentine’s present.
So what do you get for a woman who has her own diamond store?
Julie never asks for anything, Steve says. But she had tried on a pair of chandelier earrings at that trade show, and he saw her eyes sparkle. He bought them, he told her, to sell.
In their showroom, he displayed them in the front case: Two dangling strands of round-cut diamonds — 13 carats. He priced the pair at $30,000. He planned to sneak them home Wednesday after work to surprise her.
Is there a special occasion coming up? Some gala? Where will she wear such exquisite earrings?
Steve smiles. “Anywhere she wants.”
Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
Contact Lane DeGregory at [email protected] Follow @LaneDeGregory.