YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. - It seems that Joe and Benny Chiazzese were destined to become jewelers.
Both brothers started working in their uncle’s Bronx jewelry store when they were about 12 years old and learned the trade from the ground floor up.
“I started working on Saturdays doing the basics like wiping showcases, sweeping the floor,” Benny said. “That’s how I gravitated into the business. And for me, it has always been a fascinating business—working with gold, working with diamonds. Knowing that such a little stone could have a tremendous value always fascinated me. Working with the jewelry and seeing what joy it would bring to the client made me realize this would be the business I wanted to be in.
Benny said he doesn’t even consider it “work.”
“I enjoy doing this so much—getting up and helping customers and learning the product, whether it’s gold, jewelry, fine watches,” he said.
Now, the brothers own their own store here in Yorktown Heights—J&B Family Jewelers—and the business will mark its 10th anniversary in September. The Chiazzeses grew up and went to school here and always envisioned owning a store like their uncle’s, but in their hometown.
“We realized that we needed to branch out on our own, explore and do things for ourselves,” Benny said. “This spot that we are in now used to be a jewelry store. I always said to myself as a kid, wouldn’t it be amazing if we owned that jewelry store one day? It was almost like a premonition that this would be our spot.”
When the previous owner retired, the Chiazzeses bought the space and overhauled it
“We put in a whole new shop with a modern, fresh look,” Joe said. “We saw a recipe for success with what our uncle did and wanted to emulate that and kind of followed suit.”
Joe and Benny’s expertise comes from both formal training and from decades of experience.
“We learned the trade from our uncle, but I also went to school to become a gemologist,” Benny explained. “Joe has years of hands-on experience and sometimes that is even more important than the actual schooling. I have the title, but we both can look at diamonds and evaluate them and tell you all about them. We get to look at the stones and grade them according to shapes and sizes and where the inclusions are.”
The store opened in 2008, just when the country was headed into one of its deepest economic recessions. But the Chiazzeses not only weathered the economic storm, they thrived.
“The way I feel you are successful is by always putting the customer above the business. I believe in that principle,” Joe said. “Service is very important, even more important than pricing. Whether a customer is spending $5 or $5,000, we always treat them the same.”
Benny recalled a shining example of how J&B Family Jewelers goes above and beyond.
“About four years ago, a client was getting engaged and we were making him a custom ring,” he said. “The ring was to be completed on a Friday night and the customer was going away on Sunday—flying out to where he was going to propose. But we had a major snowstorm that Friday evening into Saturday. Everything was shut down; it was complete mayhem.
“The manufacturer’s office couldn’t get here because of the storm. They’re based in Brooklyn,” Benny continued. “So, me and Joe left that Saturday morning and drove all the way to Brooklyn during the storm. We didn’t get back home till eight o’clock that night. We met the customer in front of the store to give him the ring because he was taking a plane out the next day. These are the kinds of things you do that separate yourself [from the competition]. You go above and beyond.”
One of the joys of working in the jewelry business, Joe said, is that just about everything he sells has an emotional significance for his customer.
“Someone just came in and wanted to buy a pair of diamond studs for her daughter who was turning 16,” he said. “There was an emotional attachment there, a remembrance. This girl will receive this gift from her mom and dad and it’s something she’ll have for a long time and maybe someday hand down to her daughter or granddaughter. It can one day become a family heirloom.”
In decades the brothers have been in the business they’ve seen myriad changes to the industry. When they started, the store focused on high-end pieces destined to become heirlooms. That’s changed.
“The younger generation—the millennials—that’s not their thing. They want less expensive stuff,” Joe said. “That’s why we carry Alex and Ani and Pandora. You won’t stay in business if you just try and sell the expensive stuff today. Back in the day, I wouldn’t tie up a showcase to sell a $28 item. It’s different now.”
Benny noted millennials like accessories to match what they’re wearing.
“They want the fun, trendy pieces they can use to accessorize,” he said. “They don’t want to commit to a purchase that is three or four thousand dollars when they can buy something that is maybe $50, and they can own numerous pieces. We try to keep a good mixture of everything and cater to a wide range of clientele.”
As the store enters its second decade of business, Benny said he will continue his philosophy that the customer always comes first.
“I am a firm believer in that you have to keep at it and stay strong, keep digging through it until you succeed,” he said. “If you don’t give the correct service to your client, you will not succeed.”
J&B Family Jewelers is located at 1883 Commerce St. in Yorktown Heights. Call them at 914-245-2515.