1. Business

Sunday Conversation: Jewelry store owner ends an era

Alvin Magnon Jewelers' will lose its sparkle soon, ending its run as one of Tampa's oldest continuing businesses. Winnie Magnon Marvel, 54, is overseeing a liquidation sale of everything down to the walls. Almost 300 customers patiently stood in long checkout lines during presale days, after browsing a broad inventory of crystal, china, watches, diamonds and, of course, jewelry. Generations reminisced about Magnon's legendary downtown store, which opened in 1890.

Marvel's grandfather worked for owner Hugh Adams and bought the business in the early '30s. He and his brother worked there for years, and after her grandfather's retirement in 1973 they split the business into Alvin Magnon Jewelers and Magnon & Co.

Marvel believes the store continued to thrive through a tough economy because it had such a solid reputation. Marvel's grandfather, Alvin Magnon, a generous employer, was a top jewelry salesman who bought the store originally founded by Hugh Adams. Marvel recently spoke with Tampa Bay Times correspondent Mary Scourtes Greacen about the end of an era and the property on South Dale Mabry.

Why quit?

It's been an evolution. We considered moving, then decided the time was right to close.

Did you toss and turn over this?

I've had sleepless nights for the last 10 years. Retail has changed a lot and trying to adapt to that is challenging.

What are your emotions during this process?

Making the decision is the hardest but I have had plenty of time to process this eventuality and am now at peace. As I've seen retail change and our business change I've processed that my future has now changed. Or, as my son texted me, "the future ain't what it used to be."

How much does it mean to you to have your sons, Plant High School football standouts, Nathan, 25, and Davis, 23, working beside you?

My sons have been beyond great … and I feel blessed to have kids that are so together and loving and don't mind hanging out with their old mom. Their futures are bright.

We've seen department stores, banks and legendary institutions fade away. What does it say to lose such a historic business?

It says times are changing as they always do. Yes, I miss the ones that are gone … and my customers are going to miss us. Time will heal.

What was your niche?

We put an emphasis on quality, selection and service. That's why we've had loyal customers for 100 years.

Did you have a personal connection with regulars?

Sure, we knew if a customer bought a sapphire necklace at a birthday, she might be looking for a sapphire ring for Christmas.

How is the closing sale going?

Phenomenal, nothing less than unbelievable. The first day of the private presale was our single biggest day in 35 years.

How far do you go to accommodate a customer?

One woman, now deceased, purchased an estate emerald bracelet (for a couple thousand dollars) and after having some work done on it she misplaced it. She insisted it was still in our store. For whatever reason, we wound up giving her the money back rather than argue. Eight years ago, she came in with the "missing'' bracelet. She wanted to pay but I told her no problem, it was too long ago to worry about it anymore.

I was particularly interested in a book she authored and maybe she could give me a copy of it. She agreed, and a few weeks later she brought me her book. As I was thanking her, she told me that I could write her a check for $35. Everyone in the store got a good laugh. I was so shocked my mouth was hanging open … and then I just smiled and got my checkbook.

Any cops and robbers stories?

We had a guy switch a pair of diamond earrings. Later he tried to sell them at David Alexander Fine Jewelers. David took a picture of him and sent it to us, and sure enough, the guy showed up here to sell them to us. We told him that we weren't buying and sent him to Gesner Jewelers at Westshore Mall. We sent the picture to them, they called the police, and they were waiting for him there and arrested him.

Who is your longest time employee?

Meg MacAlester, who started work straight off maternity leave 31 years ago.

What kind of reaction are you getting?

There are lots of hugs and we got a lot of email and Facebook comments about what the store meant. One former resident, now in Texas, wrote to say how sorry she was to hear the news.

What will you miss most?

I'll miss the little things … just working with beautiful jewelry … getting to see, buy, examine such beauty. And as retail goes, we have the best customers out there … we really are so lucky. I always thank goodness our clients are civilized and gracious.

What will do you next?

I have a job in Rotary next year that I am excited to spend 100 percent of my time on. Other than that are no real plans … just decompress after doing the same thing for 35 years.

Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Mary Scourtes Greacen at