WILKES-BARRE – Joan Preiss has shopped at Bartikowsky Jewelers for more than 60 years, going back to when the store was located on Public Square. The announcement the store will close shocked her.
I would never shop anywhere else, Preiss, 77, said. Bartikowsky's means so much to so many. It's like an institution. You won't be able to recognize Wilkes-Barre without Bartikowsky's.
As she talked Friday inside the store, Preiss, of Plains Township, held a bracelet handed down in her family over generations. The diamonds came from Germany and Preiss was hoping to transfer the diamonds in the bracelet to rings for her grandchildren.
Her friend, Max Bartikowsky, said they looked for ways to grant her request, but just couldn't.
The honesty is here, she said. I would only trust Max and the Bartikowsky family with this bracelet.
Preiss said she won't do much jewelry shopping after the store closes.
This is a landmark that will be very, very missed, she said.
Max Bartikowsky, Lynn and Mac Ahmad, the three owners of the business, announced Thursday they are closing the store. A sale will start Tuesday for preferred customers and run through Thursday.
On Friday, the sale will be open to the public and it could last through January.
The store and property are not being sold – that decision will come down the line. For now, the owners and some 25 employees will do what they have done for years – sell merchandise.
A liquidator has been retained to handle the sale. Once it's complete, the doors will close forever.
Bartikowsky's is a family business, Lynn Ahmad said. It will close under the same name that it opened 125 years ago.
Ahmad has worked in the business most of her life – her dad, the late Jay Karnofsky – served as president and CEO for many years until her uncle Max took over after Jay retired.
Lynn started as a go-fer at the Public Square location in the late 1950s. The store stood where the Ramada hotel is now located and adjacent stores included the Square Record Shop and United Furniture.
Ahmad put things in perspective when she talked about the impact that the Internet, home shopping channels and a down economy have had on business.
People don't even have to get dressed to go out shopping, she said. They can stay in their homes and shop on TV or online.
And the economy has been down for some time; people don't have as much disposable income.
And we aren't selling bread and eggs here, she said. This is a jewelry store.
Downtown Wilkes-Barre has changed over the years, and while Ahmad said the city looks better, the concentration has been on night life businesses – restaurants, bars and a movie theater.
There hasn't been a real increase in retail businesses, she said. The downtown has to be a destination for retail; one store can't be a destination.
Anthony Liuzzo, PhD., director of the MBA program at Wilkes University, said news of the store closing doesn't signal the downtown is failing.
That's the good news, he said. But the bad news is that 25 employees will be out of work and there will be a temporary vacancy in the downtown.
Liuzzo said there is a psychological sadness that goes with the closing of a 125-year-old business.
But unfortunately we live in a world where price is the driver of sales, he said. Bartikowsky's always offered great customer service, but it has become more difficult for family-owned business to compete with the big chains.
Lynn Ahmad's husband, Mac, said the store adjusted over the years in response to market changes. But he said it was time for Bartikowsky's to close.
Everything has to be put to bed at some time, he said. The downtown has become more of a college community. The city has a lot to offer – River Street looks great and the Wilkes and King's campuses are terrific.
Saying goodbye to their customers will be difficult for the Ahmads. Their employees are like family, they said, and it saddens them when they think of putting them all out of work.
Terry Amory has worked at the store for 18 years. She said news of the closing was devastating.
This place is special, she said. I've sold engagement rings to my customers' children. My family has shopped here for generations.
Amory said she will look for another job, but will continue waiting on customers until the doors close for the last time.
Like I said, this is a special place.
Max Bartikowsky was busy waiting on customers Friday. He stopped for only a minute to say that it's time to sit back and smell the roses. He is 82. His grandfather founded the store.
This is something I never thought would happen, he said of the closing. We've had loyal, faithful customers for as long as I can remember. I've gained relationships with people that I will have for the rest of my life.
Mayor Tom Leighton said he was saddened to learn Bartikowsky's would close.
I have personally shopped many times in the store and I was always impressed with the impeccable customer service and quality of the merchandise, he said. South Main Street was enhanced by their presence, but there will be new opportunities for another business to thrive on Main Street and create new traditions for the next generations of the city.