Bay Street Jewelers turns 75

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Photo above: Fox Jewelers in 1941 when the store originally opened — notice the two gas lights on either side of the sign. 

By Molly Ingram

It is hard to imagine any store making it to the 75 year mark in this day and age. Stores seem to come and go with the ebb and flow of our local tides. But not Bay Street Jewelers. They have been in business right on Bay Street since Ben Fox first opened their doors in pre-war 1941. Then it was known as Fox Jewelers and later became Bay St. Jewelers.

Terri and Mark Stokes celebrate the oldest remaining store on Bay Street.
Terri and Mark Stokes celebrate the oldest remaining store on Bay Street.

Bay Street was the first full-line jewelry store to come to Beaufort. After Ben’s retirement in 1978, his daughter and son-in law, Phyllis and Paul Isaac, purchased the business. Mark Stokes, an AGS Certified Gemologist and a graduate of the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica, CA was hired as a manager in 1983. Mark had previously worked for two other family guild stores, Galloway & Moseley Jewelers in his hometown of Sumter, SC and Sylvan Jewelers in Columbia, SC.

In 1991, Mark and his wife, Terri, a graduate of USC with a degree in Business Administration – Management, purchased the historic downtown jewelry store and renamed it Bay Street Jewelers. Estate jewelry, contemporary jewelry, family hand-me-downs that need up-dating are the bread-and-butter of their business.

Bay Street Jewelers is a member of several elite industry groups. The most impressive one is the American Gem Society (AGS). According to their website “The American Gem Society was founded in 1934 by a small group of leading jewelers. Their goal was to create an organization that could help protect the jewelry-buying public from fraud and false advertising. Today, we’re proud to say their vision has become a reality… Only 1 in 20 jewelers have met the exacting requirements necessary for membership. To join AGS, every member must go through a peer-reviewed application process followed by an annual recertification exam. This process ensures that every AGS member you meet is at the top of their game, and more importantly, each one has pledged to protect you, the consumer.”

Bay Street Jewelers also belongs to the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC); the Independent Jewelers Organization (IJO); and the Retail Jewelers Organization (RJO). They are also a member of Jewelers of America (JA) and very involved in the South Carolina Jewelers Association (SCJA), where Mark and Terri are both past Presidents.

Bay Street Jewelers does business the old fashioned way – they take pride in their store and believe in building business based on long-term client relationships – the Southern Hospitality approach. Starting with Ben Fox, the store has always put customers and friends first. In the old days, Ben would be the first one there to help a friend or client in need. And the ladies keep talking about his great dancing ability which seems to have made him somewhat of a legend around these parts, at least with the ladies! I guess that is one way to ingratiate yourself with the local wives and mothers.

Mark says, “The store does regular repair work and provides a great atmosphere to consider a new jewelry addition to your family, but we love custom designing and consulting. I handle appraisals and what a thrill it is to me to have the honor to appraise family heirlooms and discuss their history with their current owner.” Mark shared a story with me about a lady who wanted a Tourmaline in very specific “wine” color, in a very large size. Mark said, “I got to be a detective for this nice lady searching for the perfect 15-20 carat Tourmaline and then I got to turn it into a stunning dinner ring! Now that was fun!”

Seventy-five years is no easy feat. But looking at the store, and talking with their staff, you understood why clients call them “family.” I suspect Beaufort will have a Bay Street Jewelers for another decade or six.