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Merritt Jewelers to celebrate 30 years in business in August

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If you need your wedding ring resized or repaired, or you want a new jewelry piece created out of vintage heirloom pieces passed down by generations, you won’t want to bring your precious stones to just anyone.

That’s why Merritt Jewelers, a fixture on Front Street in Pequot Lakes for 30 years, continues to be in business, by providing personalized customer service for every person who walks through the door.

In 1984, Don Merritt Sr. moved to Pequot Lakes from Florida and opened his jewelry business on Front Street, just one door down from its current location. One year later, his son and daughter-in-law, Don Jr. and Barb Merritt, moved to town from St. Louis, Mo., and took over the store.

Don Sr. continued to be involved with the business for 10 years before he moved back to Florida, where he passed away in 2011. He was 79.

Barb Merritt said they started small and then relocated to the storefront next door about 17 years ago, allowing them to double the store’s size.

Quality jewelry and customer service are what keep their customers coming back, she said. The store employs its own goldsmith, Kevin O’Hern, and performs all the work on site, including sizing, repairs, and casting and creating new jewelry. If you buy a ring, you’ll often be able to have it sized and returned to you that day.

“We’re not just selling jewelry,” Merritt said. “Being a jeweler is personal. There are not many people you would trust your diamonds with.”

December is the jewelry store’s busiest time of year, and diamonds, particularly diamond earrings, are its top sellers.

“Every woman has a pair of diamond earrings or wants a pair of diamond earrings,” Merritt said with a smile.

Merritt keeps a wish list behind the counter for her repeat clients, and if their husbands show up, she can steer them in the right direction of what jewelry their wives would like.

“In a small town, you can do this,” Merritt said. “I’ve always liked jewelry, but I really like my customers. I am the type of person who wakes up happy and I can’t wait to see my customers. When people come in here, it’s always for a happy reason.”

Merritt Jewelers is also home to Paul Bunyan’s engagement ring for his girlfriend, Lucette. A customer gave the Merritts a large crystal, and the Merritts weren’t sure what to do with it. Five years ago, O’Hern made it into a size 144 ring and another Paul Bunyan-sized story was born. The massive ring is on display in the store, and customers often come in and have their photo taken with the ring.

The jewelry business wasn’t immune to the Great Recession in 2008, but Merritt said rising gold values helped keep them busy, despite the economic downturn. Customers would trade in their old gold jewelry and buy something new. Since the demand for gold is high, it can be used just as paper currency at the jewelry store.

Merritt said customers still came in to buy Christmas and birthday gifts during the recession, but they weren’t spending as much on jewelry. This has since changed, and she said sales have rebounded.

The store always hosts its fuzzy dice and anniversary sales each year, and this year will be no exception. Merritt said she’s trying to dream up something special to do for the store’s 30th anniversary in August.

The Merritts have three adult sons and three grandchildren. Merritt said now that her children are grown, she feels she has the time to give back to the Pequot Lakes community. The Merritts sponsor the annual summer pet parade and Barb Merritt is a founder and vice president of the newly formed Community Action of Pequot Lakes. She was one of the organizers of the Santa’s Bobbin’ into Town event and parade in December.

“I love Pequot. I really do,” she said with a smile.

Jodie Tweed, a former Brainerd Dispatch reporter, is a freelance writer who contributes stories for several regional and national publications and writes blog posts and web content for clients throughout the country. She and her husband and their three daughters live in Pequot Lakes.