ST. PETERSBURG — The phrases "I'm so sad," and "I was so surprised" rang steadily throughout the first day of Bruce Watters Jewelers' going out of business sale Tuesday as customers lamented the end of the family-owned operation that has operated in St. Petersburg for 112 years.
"It's sad. It's been an institution for so long," customer Glenn Mosby said.
Owner Jim Watters is retiring and closing the business his grandfather started and his father moved from Central Avenue to Beach Drive in 1974. He took the reins in 1998.
"I didn't have any kids who are following the footsteps, they've all made other career decisions," said Watters, 59. "My grandfather had my dad who ran the store while he spent summers up in North Carolina. I allowed my dad to go do whatever he wanted to do. I'm healthy, my wife is healthy, we want to go have fun. We really wanted to go out while (the business) was good."
Bruce Watters Jewelers moved from its original Beach Drive location to its current space a few doors down in 2015 to make way for Stillwaters Tavern. Jim Watters and several real estate partners own part of the street's 200 block.
"When we leased the space to Stillwaters may really have been the time to (close) but I built this (new store) for my dad so he had a place to come hang out as long as he wanted to," Watters said. His father, Bruce Watters, worked part-time up until two weeks before he died at age 85 in September of last year.
Jim Watters doesn't yet know who will lease the jewelry store's 1,500-square-foot space but has already had interest from five different types of businesses. It will probably rent for the tony street's average rate, which is $60 to $80 a square foot, he said.
When Bruce Watters moved the store to Beach Drive in 1974, he paid $6.50 a square foot in rent. Just three years ago the average rate on Beach Drive was $40 a square foot.
Customers and friends, many one in the same, were lined up before the store opened Tuesday for discounts of up to 70 percent on crystal, silver, gold, diamonds and other jewels.
"Bruce Watters is a landmark in St. Petersburg. I'm happy for Jimmy," said Steve Coppins, who was at the store shortly after the sale started. "I've been coming here for a long time. I bought her wedding ring here," he added, referring to the diamond band on his wife, Ginny's, hand.
"You get used to the old-timers here but change is an interesting subject," said Cooper Petagna, is who part of the partnership that owns the Beach Drive properties with Watters. The store at 208 Beach Drive NE will close in January.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 409-3642. Follow @snowsmith.