by Joshua Jerome
The Granite City certainly has a rich history shaped from the melting pot of immigrants who moved into Barre in the later part of the 19th century. And like the granite quarried by these immigrants that remain the foundation blocks for buildings and monuments around the world today, so are several businesses that have stood the test of time, through floods, economic depressions and cultural changes. One business, located right in downtown Barre is Goodfellows Jewelry.
Originally opened around 1885 by a real estate tycoon and named Nichols Jewelry, it sold pocket watches and cigars. An interesting story appeared in the local paper in the early 1890s that described the apparent thievery of no particular jewelry, but of one freshly baked apple pie made by Mrs. Nichols. The business changed hands several times before a local watchmaker named W.H. Goodfellow purchased the business and named it Goodfellows Jewelry in 1920.
Jewelry styles have changed over the years, but a constant since 1961 has been the ownership of Goodfellows Jewelry by the Gentl family. Virgil Gentl worked in the Diamond District in Manhattan and he and his wife began making excursions up into Vermont in the 1950s. On one such trip, they found themselves in Barre strolling along Main Street when they noticed a jewelry store for sale. They were enthralled with the rural country feel and owning a “mom and pop” type business was appealing. Since Virgil was already in the diamond and gem business, the transition into jewelry store owner seemed a natural transition. So, the family of three moved up from New Haven, Connecticut to Barre in 1961.
Virgil acquired a reputation for professionalism by giving every customer his full attention. He wore a suit and tie every day and according to his grandson, Eric Gentl, “brought Manhattan to Barre.” Virgil kept customer service first and foremost. On one occasion, a customer had called to inform Virgil that he had to stop by and pick up an engagement ring. It was the middle of winter at the time and had been snowing for some time. Rose went down to the deli and grabbed some wine, salami, cheese and some antipasti and the couple had dinner in the jewelry store while waiting for the customer to arrive. Finally, after several hours, the customer showed up to get his ring. However, unaware of how hard it was actually snowing outside, many of the businesses had already closed early and gone home. The Gentl’s, seeing how much snow was on the road, knew they couldn’t make it up the hill and decided to spend the night in the store.
In 1980, Virgil’s son Raymond began helping out at the store. In 1984, Raymond redesigned the inside of the store to its present day appearance, adding a large chandelier in the center room along with the short bay windows. Today, the store is managed by Eric Gentl, Raymond’s son who came on about ten years ago. The transition for Eric was natural as he was already in the antique business specializing in high-end Americana pieces. In carrying the tradition of excellent customer service, Eric told me a story of a young couple who had picked out their wedding rings, but had them on layaway. However, the father of the bride was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so the wedding was moved up so the proud father could be there for his daughter to get married.
The young women called Eric to explain the situation. Knowing full well that the rings were not paid for and would not be for several months, Eric asked if they needed a ring bearer for their wedding. And indeed, they did and invited Eric to be the ring bearer who happily accepted.
The dedication of the Gentl family to its customers is one of the reasons why Goodfellows Jewelry has stood the test of time and weathered the mall being constructed and the internet becoming ubiquitous. It’s another reason why I love downtown Barre and support our locally owned businesses as much as possible.
The writer is executive director of The Barre Partnership