Shining Example

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LOCAL INDEPENDENT JEWELRY STORE MAKES MEMORIES

On a chilly, overcast, late autumn morning somewhere in Ohio, a woman puts on a pair of earrings that make her remember a perfect summer day at the beach.

The day went like this: In the morning, the family rose in their rented villa on Hilton Head Island, gathered their things and rode a small fleet of yellow bikes to the beach. The parents set up shop under a beach umbrella while the children took off running toward the waves. After a full day of swimming, building sandcastles and strolling on the sand, the family went home, took showers and headed to Sea Pines Center. It was time for their annual pilgrimage to Forsythe Jewelers.

Shining Example2Store owner Andrea Bragg welcomed them and remembered the family from past visits. While the mother browsed the latest collections from designers Roberto Coin, Marco Bicego, Lagos, David Yurman and John Hardy, staff cleaned and polished the necklace and rings she had worn into the shop. To reimburse the gate fee the family paid to enter Sea Pines, Bragg slipped the husband a light green envelope with $6 inside. When their son complained he was thirsty, a sales person handed him a bottle of water. Another staff member rolled a stretchy plastic bracelet over the daughter’s tiny wrist and tilted a mirror so she could see herself.

In the end, the woman selected a pair of 18-karat yellow gold Roberto Coin drop earrings, small enough for everyday wear but with a sophisticated look she loved. She added a couple of items to her wish list — which Forsythe keeps on file for each customer. Then the parents took pictures of their children with the alligator sculpture outside the store before heading across the plaza to dinner at Truffles Cafe. It was the perfect day, and every time she put the earrings on during the long, cold winter in the Midwest, the woman was reminded of the sun-drenched Lowcountry coast.

Bragg and her staff at Forsythe say this scenario plays out for both locals and island visitors — minus the snow, of course.

“Some customers come right from the beach, in their bathing suits and cover-ups, and we don’t mind a bit,” she said.

In addition to a much wider selection of jewelry than seems possible in a store of its size, the best thing about Forsythe Jewelers is the relaxed, friendly attitude of Bragg and her staff. This is not a store where those who come in to browse feel intimidated and leave quickly. Bragg’s enthusiasm for jewelry at all price points and the way she treats every shopper like a friend quickly put people at ease. She’s also a great source of recommendations for good local restaurants and things to do.

Bragg bought the business two years ago after working there for 14 years. She couldn’t bear the thought that the store might close when original owner Debbie Berling retired. It turned out Berling was thinking the same thing, and she asked Bragg to take over.

“I love the relationships that I have with my customers, and I love to be on the sales floor,” said Bragg, who makes three buying trips a year to ensure that Forsythe keeps up with trends and offers new items. Customers often tell her they find Forsythe’s selection comparable to the offerings at large jewelry retailers in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities.

Bragg knows her regular customers so well that when she’s at jewelry shows, she imagines who might wear and enjoy each piece she’s considering. She and her husband — Ray Bragg, the head golf pro at Sea Pines Club Course — are recognized wherever they go on Hilton Head. Their daughters Abbey and Julia work at the store when they’re home from college, and most of Forsthye’s employees have been there for years. For customers who live on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton, Forsythe offers free same day or next day delivery.

All of these things make Bragg confident that her small business will continue to thrive in an era when Internet shopping is gaining market share. Shopping for jewelry on a computer has none of the pleasures of coming into Forsythe. Customers can’t see the piece shine, can’t try it on and, most importantly, can’t hear the warmth in her voice when Bragg shows you what’s new in the store.