WILKES-BARRE – Wearing bracelets, rings, a necklace and earrings purchased over the years at Bartikowsky Jewelers, Aileen Soya was a walking billboard at the going out of business sale Tuesday.
Soya and her husband, Tom, of Jessup, said it was an emotional experience for them. Tom's dad, Tony, worked for Bartikowsky's for years in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, and the couple has been patronizing the store since 1983.
Soya said he and his wife cried when they got the invitation to the store's final sale.
They've always had the highest quality merchandise here, Tom said. And you could always trust them. They had the best prices, highest quality items and the best repair department. We feel like family here.
The store, a downtown institution for 125 years, is hosting its final sale. Owners said no one in the family's next generation was interested in taking over the South Main Street business founded in 1887 by Max Bartikowsky, who came to the United States in 1880 from his home on the border of Germany and Lithuania.
Joe Naperkowski of Wilkes-Barre Township has been shopping at Bartikowsky's for 32 years.
I feel bad about this, he said of the closing. But I understand it. Things are different today.
JoAnn Nat has worked at Bartikowsky's for 26 years. She said she will stay until they lock the doors for the last time.
I've spent half of my life here, she said. These aren't customers – they're friends.
Nat said the coolest thing about her job is the happy memories shared with customers and co-workers.
We are forever part of each other's lives, Nat said. We're emotionally attached. It's generational.
Nat said she has sold to grandparents and grandchildren.
Lillian Skillinge of Plains Township remembers the store when it was on North Main Street.
I haven't come here very often, but when I want something nice, I come here, she said. The merchandise is high quality and the service is outstanding always.
Skillinge said news of the 125-year-old business closing saddened her.
It's been around for so long, she said. You always hate to lose something so good. But that's life – it goes on and on.
Bruce Gover of Dallas has been coming to the store since the 1960s. He said the Bartikowsky family is wonderful and has always supported the community.
I realize times have changed with Internet shopping and all, he said. But I prefer the personal touch.
Luzerne County Judge William Amesbury said as soon as he finished with a case Tuesday morning he had to come to the store to see his friends Max Bartikowsky and Mac and Lynn Ahmad, the store's owners.
Mac and I go back decades; back to our wrestling days, he said. And I used to play basketball with Max at the Jewish Community Center.
Amesbury said Wilkes-Barre will have a difficult time filling the void left after Bartikowsky's closes.
It will be more like filling a black hole, he said. I'm afraid this will take many things down with it.
Carol Partington of Wilkes-Barre said she dreads the thought of a world without Bartikowsky's.
I got all my jewelry here, she said. I'll be lost without this place.
• The store's going out of business sale continues today and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for preferred customers who received invitations.
• The sale opens to the general public on Friday and will continue through January.