Nearly a century after Bob Savitt launched a family-run jewelry shop on Church Street, his grandkids are retiring, and there’s no one left in the family to take over.
So Savitt Jewelers will close the doors of its last location, at 1064 Chapel St., on June 30.
Word has spread quickly over the past week to customers, some of whom have shopped there for decades.
Co-owner Mike Rosenthal runs the store with his wife, Faith Savitt Rosenthal, and her brother, Richard Savitt. The siblings are the third generation to run the store; they’re the grandchildren of store founder Bob.
Rosenthal said he and his wife plan to retire, and don’t have any progeny to take over the business. The Rosenthals’ two sons went into the pharmaceutical industry. Their two grandchildren, ages 4 and 7, are “not ready” to start selling diamonds.
“The time has come,” Rosenthal said, to close the book on one of the state’s oldest jewelry shops.
On Wednesday afternoon, Rosenthal helped a customer make a $20 payment on an engagement ring. He pulled out a magnifying glass and gave his professional opinion on a handful of rings she brought in. (Most weren’t real diamonds.)
Then he walked to a display of black-and-white photos near the front windows and recounted the shop’s history.
An illustration charts the life of the store’s founder. Born in Springfield, Mass., Robert R. Savitt came from a long line of jewelers. He “earned his first money selling song books and men’s jewelry at the age of 6,” according to the text under the drawings. He didn’t want to be a jeweler as a kid; he saw himself as a lawyer. But he quickly got swept up in the profession.
He started working in a jewelry store at age 12, becoming the eighth generation in his family to enter the profession. He and M.J. Kittridge started a business in Springfield, Mass., then moved it to New Haven in 1919 under the name Kittridge & Savitt. Two years later the name changed to Savitt Co.
Savitt would “spend his whole life” in the business, according to the narrative written under the drawings.
The first store opened on Nov. 6, 1919, according to a newspaper clipping a customer brought in.
The store sat at 111 Church St., near the intersection of Chapel Street, in what was then a bustling part of downtown. In 1923, Bob Savitt also opened a jewelry store in Hartford with his brother, Bill.
The New Haven shop used a vacant F. Woolworth storefront next door to display diamonds.
It later moved to 88 Church St., next to the Waldorf Cafeteria, in what later became the Chapel Square Mall.
It moved again to Chapel Street, in a space now occupied by Zinc restaurant. It sat there for 25 years.
Along the way, Savitt’s got involved in various charitable endeavors, including a sportsmanship award for high-schoolers and a student-of-the-month award, for which kids would get a free wristwatch.
Savitt’s sponsored a semi-pro baseball team called the Savitt Gems. Babe Ruth (pictured in left photo with Bill Savitt) even popped by to play with the Gems in a celebrity moonlighting gig. It was a way for big-time players to make money and draw crowds to support small-time teams. The photo on the right is a flyer from an exhibition game when the Gems played the Yankees in 1945.
The store passed on from Bob Savitt to his son, Herb, and then to Herb’s kids.
It found its final resting spot at 1064 Chapel, where it has been for the past 25 years.
That storefront now announces the departure in block-lettered signs in red.
“Closing our doors forever,” one sign declares.
“Everything must go.”
Bob Barnes, a professional liquidator who has overseen 15 store closings in the last seven years, stood guard at the counter Wednesday as customers came in looking for a good discount.
“It’s like a funeral,” he said. “We’re talking three generations and nobody left.”
Rosenthal helped a lot of couples pick out engagement rings over the years. Now he’s helping some of their children pick out their own rings.
The store is a full jewelry shop offering custom design, engraving, and jewelry and watch repairs. The six employees have dwindled to four as the end nears. Among those left standing is 75-year-old Elaine Marreiros, who has worked at the store for 35 years.
Savitt’s also had a branch in Hamden, which closed years ago.
Rosenthal called the final closing “bittersweet” and entirely voluntary. The store was doing fine, he said. “If we wanted to stay open, we certainly could have.”
He said he and his wife (pictured), who live in Cheshire, have hit the age where Social Security benefits kick in.
“We want to retire from business while we’re still healthy,” he said.
Rosenthal said he won’t miss the day-to-day retail work, “but it’s kind of sad we’re not going to see our customers any more.”
Over the years, he said, “we made a lot of good friends.”