Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 30, 2018

Fitzpatrick closing doors of unique shop

Jane Fitzpatrick, who opened her shop in the James Building in 1986, is no fan of small or bargain jewelry. - Photograph by David Laprad

Jane Fitzpatrick was just settling into her thirties when she started a journey that’s only now coming to an end as she pushes 79.

Bored with waiting for her children to come home from school and tired of presiding over various clubs, she went to work for a Chattanooga jeweler. Eight years later, after she became an experienced buyer, she went into business for herself.

“I was having fun. And I thought, ‘Why should I make all this money for him? Why don’t I make it for myself?’” Fitzpatrick says.

Fitzpatrick set up shop just inside The James Building, in a small space previously occupied by a hamburger joint. There’s still a hole in the wall where the dumbwaiter would bring up freshly cooked burgers from the basement.

Fitzpatrick called her place Jane’s Fine Jewelry and opened for business on April 1, 1986. Gone were the order counter and other restaurant furnishings, and in their place, stood glass cases stocked with the kind of jewelry she loved – pearl necklaces, earrings to match and thick rings that clasped large gemstones.

Fitzpatrick still wears this kind of jewelry today, including the pearls. Two spheres as white as fresh snow frame her equally bright smile and a string of pearls draped around her neck perfectly offsets her sand-colored blouse.

“Pearls are my favorite. They’re a nice thing for Southern ladies to wear,” she points out. “My daughters-in-law and my granddaughters who are old enough all wear pearl earrings.”

Fitzpatrick loves rings, too. Her long, slender and perfectly manicured ring finger accommodates three diamond-bedecked bands. It’s her favorite ensemble, although she has many other rings she’ll wear instead depending on her outfit.

Fitzpatrick adds she’s loved jewelry for as long as she can remember. Even in her baby pictures, she’s adorned with rings and bracelets. “I guess my family put those things on me because I like to sparkle,” she says.

Fitzpatrick’s eyes sparkle as she recalls the early days of running her store. Although she didn’t make much money her first Christmas in business, it was a lot to her, and sales went up from there. She attributes her success over the years to her fair business practices.

“I have the best prices in town,” she says. “A diamond ring is still going to cost you, but my markup is less. I know what everyone else’s markup is, so I know what I’m talking about.”

As the owner of a jewelry boutique, Fitzpatrick could do what she wanted. So, she not only charged reasonable prices, she came up with innovative ways of moving her products.

One effective tool was her wish book, a small tome in which wives and girlfriends would list the items they wanted from most to least expensive, and then their boyfriend or husband would come in and purchase what he could afford – or felt like spending.

“Even though she’d picked it out, his gift was still a surprise because she didn’t know what he was going to buy,” Fitzpatrick explains. “That really helped the men.”

Fitzpatrick also allowed her customers to buy things on store credit. She kept her records in a small black book and did her own financing. Fitzpatrick didn’t even begin accepting credit cards until she placed her inventory on sale last November.

“I’d let people pay me by the month,” she recalls. “It was just my way of doing things. I’m very conservative, and I didn’t like the idea of giving a credit card company some of my money.”

Fitzpatrick’s black book also contained some of Chattanooga’s best kept secrets.

“A lot of women in Chattanooga are wearing jewelry they bought with their grocery money,” she says. “They’d pay a hundred dollars a month and their husbands would never know. They wouldn’t even realize their wives had bought something because they don’t pay attention to those kinds of things.”

Fitzpatrick even did curbside deliveries on Broad Street.

“One day, a lady I knew called and said she wanted a ring. I told her what I had, and she picked one and asked me to bring it to her car when she stopped outside,” she remembers. “So, I did. It was worth almost $6,000, and she bought it right there on the street.”

Over time, Jane’s Fine Jewelry became known as a honk-and-blow jewelry store, thanks to Fitzpatrick’s curbside deliveries.

Fitzpatrick also carefully curated her collection. Her No. 1 rule: She wouldn’t stock anything another store was selling.

“You couldn’t find my jewelry anywhere else in the city,” she adds. “And if I found out one of my suppliers had sold the same piece to another store, I’d tell them to come get their merchandise and then I wouldn’t do business with them anymore.”

Despite having an eye for jewelry that would appeal to Chattanooga’s elite, Fitzpatrick does admit to making some poor choices along the way.

“I sold what I liked. And I’m such a know-it-all that I thought I could do no wrong,” she admits. “But did I buy a few dogs along the way or what? I remember thinking one particular necklace was gorgeous, but it proved to be too much for Chattanooga. It went to Nashville and was sold to a country music star.”

And despite being customer-friendly, Fitzpatrick developed a distaste for two kinds of people: miserly men and women who don’t ask for what they want.

“If you took something home to your wife or girlfriend and she didn’t like it, it was because you were stingy and didn’t pick out something nice,” she says. “Men tend to do that unless they’re wealthy, and even some of them do it. You don’t have to buy the most expensive piece of jewelry in the store but it does have to be nice.”

Fitzpatrick also cringes when she hears a woman say she wants just a small piece of jewelry.

“Women don’t like itty bitty jewelry, but either they know that’s all their husband can afford or they’re tight with their money,” she adds, wrinkling her nose. “What grown woman wants a little bit of jewelry? Little bitty jewelry is for kids.”

As Fitzpatrick looks back on her three decades as the owner of Jane’s Fine Jewelry, she encounters many fond memories. She smiles as she reminisces about staying open late during the Christmas shopping season, when she’d put a table with food and champagne in the lobby of the James Building and hired a harpist to play seasonal tunes. And she looks wistful as she thinks of the many friends she made.

But gradually, over the last year or two, she’s come to realize it’s time to close for good. She says millennials don’t have a taste for fine jewelry, and she’s had her fill of the construction taking place downtown.

“I don’t want to close, but it’s time,” Fitzpatrick says. “It was time last year, but I held on just to be with my friends.”

Fitzpatrick has the energy to go on but knows it’s time to bring an era to an end. She won’t be idle, though. She leaves the jewelry store every day at 3 p.m. to go to First Presbyterian Church, where she cooks as part of the church’s service to the needy. That work will continue after she locks up Jane’s Fine Jewelry for the last time.

“I was born with a lot of energy, and I’m healthy, so I’m going to keep on trucking until God takes me home.’’

Fitzpatrick’s last day in business will be Friday, March 30. While that day will be bittersweet, she’s grateful for the time she’s had doing what she loves.

“What woman wouldn’t want to be around these pretty things?” she asks, looking over the few remaining items in her glass cases. “I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend 31 years.”