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Jeweler finds Pioneer Way a perfect setting
Only a handful of businesses have survived and thrived in downtown Oak Harbor over the decades.
The enduring jewel of Pioneer Way shops has been, and continues to be, Gloria Carothers’ Jewelry Gallery.
It’s been 23 years this summer that she opened the store, which is an accomplishment for any entrepreneur.
Carothers said she’s succeeded by sticking to her principles.
“People are very savvy and very smart,” she said. “So you need to be very honest and upfront with them.
“It’s all about building relationships and trust.”
Tucked inside the Old Town Mall, the little jewelry store has become something close to a community landmark.
It’s a place where generations of family members return to purchase everlasting symbols of love as well as beautiful trinkets.
Of course, Carothers herself is part of the attraction. A longtime Oak Harbor resident, she seems to know half the people in town and many of them regularly stop by to browse the merchandise and talk about everything from city politics to old friends.
Betty Fuller, a customer since the store opened, came up from Coupeville last week just because she hadn’t been there in a while. She said Carothers has helped her husband purchase the perfect gifts for three generations of girls in the family.
“If I see something I like, I tell Gloria and she keeps a note for when my husband walks in,” she said.
Carothers is firmly rooted in the community, down to her Dutch pedigree.
Her father, Peter Hulswit, was involved in the Dutch resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II and a concentration camp survivor.
Hulswit had a friend in Oak Harbor, so he brought his wife, Helen, and 7-year-old Gloria to the community in 1957.
Hulswit was also well-known in town. He was the original owner of the Dairy Valley milk barn in the city and volunteered as a masseur and sports trainer at the high school for 20 years.
Carothers said her love of jewelry came from her grandmother, who visited from Holland and gave her gifts of beautiful pieces.
Carothers was a school teacher for 25 years in Oak Harbor. In 1987, she had the chance to purchase a jewelry store in East Seattle from a retiring couple and jumped in.
In 1991, she opened the Jewelry Gallery but continued teaching part-time until 1997. She credits longtime employee Adrienne Bennett for helping her to make the store a success.
“She’s an incredible asset,” she said. “She’s the creative vision of the store. She’s very talented and people love her.”
Carothers said she’s always thought it was important to be active and engaged in the community. Each year, for example, she sponsors the Diamonds in a Glass raffle for the Boys and Girls Club and donates a piece of jewelry worth $3,000 to $10,000.
She was president of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce when Jill Johnson, now an Island County commissioner, was executive director.
“She is a smart and savvy businesswoman who always puts her customers first,” said Johnson, who is also a longtime customer.
As a jeweler, Carothers knows some sensitive information, like who’s buying jewelry for whom. Johnson complained, jokingly, that Carothers’ lips were sealed when Johnson tried to find out what her husband bought for her.
“She’s a vault when it comes to keeping secrets,” she said.
Carothers said men sometimes come in to purchase jewelry in order to get themselves out of the doghouse.
“I ask them, ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, how much trouble are you in?’ ” she said. “And then I help them pick the right piece.”
One of her favorite things to do is help people create custom jewelry from old jewelry that was passed down to them.
“I have a wonderful goldsmith who is very creative,” she said. “I’ll give him an idea and he’ll run with it and make it even better.”
Estate jewelry, which is a fancy term for pre-owned jewelry, is an important part of her business and allows her to offer customers “incredible” engagement rings and other pieces at reasonable prices.
In addition, she buys gold, silver, diamonds, coins and sterling flatwear.
While people can buy jewelry off of the Internet, Carothers said she isn’t worried about the competition.
“There will always be a place for brick-and-mortar jewelry stores because we provide services you can’t get anywhere else,” she said. “You get to see it. You get to try it on.”