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Moyer Jewelers: Gems from the Store That Is No More

by on February 14, 2019 5:00 AM

It won’t matter how many bouquets of roses are presented this Valentine’s Day or how many boxes of chocolate are consumed. And regardless of how many Happy Valley hearts are struck by Cupid’s arrows, this Valentine’s Day will lack one special ingredient.

Moyer Jewelers, an iconic State College store, closed its doors for the final time on Dec. 29. And that simple fact means there’s a heart-shaped vacuum in our community — on Valentine’s Day and throughout our foreseeable future.

Some jewelry stores may be known only for the exchange of cold, hard cash and hardened gemstones. But not this one. The store that was operated for nearly 70 years by three generations of Moyers delivered the warmth of a family business, and I’m not the only person who felt it.

FAMILY BUSINESS; FAMILY FEEL

“There was a familial relationship there,” says Crystal Ernecoff, a key employee for the last 20 years of Moyer Jewelers’ existence. “That’s one of the reasons why I loved the place — because it was family. I knew four generations of the family. For the first five years I was here, I was the newest hire, so that right there speaks to how well everyone was treated.”

Customers also felt a family atmosphere within the store.  

“I told Lori (Moyer) that we were truly, truly going to miss them,” says Matthew Rutschky, a loyal customer since 2010 whose parents preceded him as Moyer patrons since the 1950s. “We considered them like family. Normally you go to a store and the clerks come and go — you don’t know anybody. But Moyer’s became part of our family.”

Moyer Jewelers was founded in 1949 by Belty Packard (B.P.) Moyer who operated the business from three rooms within the Tavern Restaurant building at 220 E. College Ave. After B.P.’s death in 1964, his son, Gary — who had just graduated from Penn State — took over management. Soon, the business was moved to 216 E. College (more recently occupied by Kranich’s Jewelers), and then in 1975, the enterprise found its final and most memorable location, the old “Athletic Store” building at the corner of Allen Street and College Avenue.

 

Moyer Jewelers was located at 220 E. College Ave. then 216 E. College Ave. for a combined 26 years before moving to the corner of College and Allen in 1975.

THE HEART OF TOWN AND GOWN

That location, at the very heart of town and gown, proved both challenging and exciting. Somehow, the Moyers maintained their family warmth and professionalism in an unpredictable setting. Gary and Judy Moyer’s daughter, Lori, who managed the store since 2008, acknowledges the special nature of 100 E. College Ave. “There was always something different, whether in the store or outside the store,” says Lori. “Sometimes weird, sometimes quirky, sometimes sentimental, sometimes sad.”

As for outside the store, many organizations proclaimed their political positions or social causes in front of the campus gate. “An opinion will be expressed on a regular basis,” says Crystal, “but that’s part of the charm of College and Allen.”

Bars, restaurants and the nearby bus stop also brought an eclectic mix of townies, students, musicians, artists and alumni to the corner. Bridal parties increasingly chose to take their photos in front of the campus gate or even in the middle of the intersection. During football season, the voice of “Rick the Ticket Guy” (“Anybody need tickets? Anybody selling tickets?”) added to the dynamic atmosphere. And if things ever got a bit boring, just then a car would travel down Allen and turn right onto College — but not for long.


Moyer Jewelers moved in 1975 to the corner of College and Allen in State College and remained there until its closing on Dec. 29, 2018.

“STREAKER” INVADES

As for the interior of Moyer Jewelers, one never knew when its quiet dignity would succumb to the downtown’s craziness. Like the day in the 1970s when a young man chose to practice the fad of “streaking,” and he ran a quick unclothed lap around the sales areas before exiting.

“The funny part about it,” says Gary, “was that half of our help noticed him and half of our help didn’t. We think he was a college student, but he wasn’t anybody we recognized—with his pants on or not.”

And then there was the time when Gary was helping a young couple with a jewelry selection. Their baby got a bit cranky during the process and suddenly the woman chose to breastfeed the little one, right there at the counter. Lori, then serving as a salesperson, watched the scene unfold from nearby.  

“She just whipped her shirt up and put the baby on,” recalls Lori. “This was decades ago, when women did that in private. I knew my dad was sweating bullets, but he handled the situation.”   

WARMTH AND ROMANCE

Although unusual moments seemed to take place with regularity at Moyer’s, the typical atmosphere could be described as quiet, peaceful and friendly. Such a tone was set each morning before the store opened when Lori’s Golden Retriever, Sophie, greeted veteran goldsmith Bill Wallace upon his arrival.   

“She loved Bill,” notes Lori, “and she would lay at the front door until he came in. Then she would go back (to his work area) and sit with her chin on his leg until we opened. And then she knew it was time to come back to the office at the front.”

Wallace served with Crabtree Jewelers for 25 years and with Moyer’s for 24 years until he died in June of 2010. “When Bill passed away,” says Lori, “Sophie laid at that door for weeks until she finally figured out that he wasn’t coming back.”

While mornings at Moyer’s began with reminders of canine loyalty, evenings often brought a quaint display of romance. According to Gary, when Lori helped a young man to select an engagement ring, she would often ask if he had planned a setting in which to propose marriage. 

“A lot of times,” says Gary, “the fellow had no clue and no idea, so she would help him come up with a creative idea. A lot of the best ones involved putting a sign in one of our windows—usually at night so the fellow could take the girl out to dinner and then bring her by our windows. So the young couple would come by and there would be the engagement ring and a little sign that would say, ‘Martha, will you marry me?’ And Lori would need to be in the store so she could give them the ring. She did that a lot.”


Lori Moyer and Crystal Ernecoff talk inside the former Moyer Jewelers. Photo by Bill Horlacher

A SWEET MEMORY

Lori didn’t need to offer such help to Matthew Rutschky when he brought his future wife, Cindy, to the store to look at engagement rings. But even though Lori had a minor role on that occasion, she told me their 2012 visit to the store is one of her favorite memories. Because I know the Rutschkys well — I see Matt and Cindy frequently at State College Evangelical Free Church — I was able to hear his recollection of that day.

Though the couple was “serious,” Matt notes that he had not proposed to Cindy and did not want to purchase a ring that she had never seen. “I knew that I had no idea what she liked,” he says, “so we looked around. We went from the regular diamond engagement rings over to the ‘Hearts on Fire’ diamonds which are more expensive. She looked around there and she found one that she really, really liked. I looked at her and she was looking at me, and she was holding the ring. So I took the ring from her and right there I knelt down and proposed and put the ring on her finger. It was a shock to her — utter shock —that I was proposing because she hadn’t expected it.”

But Cindy pulled herself together enough to say, “Yes!” and then there was an outbreak of excitement by the salespeople and other customers. “We all cheered,” says Lori. “And she cried and they were just ecstatic and she wore the ring right out the door. And they bought their wedding rings here and they’ve bought many gifts here over the years.”

CONCERN FOR CHINESE CUSTOMER

Lori also mentioned the story of an international student who shopped at Moyer’s, and we were both amazed when we realized she was talking about my close friend, Yu, a Ph.D. student at Penn State.  (My Nov. 28 column describes my first chance to sit in the student section at Beaver Stadium which was made possible by this Chinese man.)

Yu purchased an engagement ring at Moyer’s last summer with the help of sales associate Susie Sekunda, and he then proposed to a recent graduate named “Vivian,” just one week before she returned to China. Alas, Vivian was not quite ready for such a big step at that time. Her answer was something like, “No, not now; maybe later.”

And so Yu did what any young man would do. After working through his feelings, he went back to Moyer’s to return the ring and get a refund. Lori helped him on that occasion, and Yu sensed her compassion. “Her facial expression told me everything,” he says. “I saw her feeling really sorry for me but encouraging me that this wasn’t the end of the world.”

And indeed it was not. Just two weeks after arriving in her homeland, Vivian knew that “yes” was the right answer, after all, and the couple got engaged by cyber connection. Yu soon made his way back to Moyer’s — to share his good news and to buy another ring.  

“I felt like they were my fans, my cheerleaders,” he says. “And I loved their store; I loved their rings.”


Lori Moyer and Crystal Ernecoff stand outside Moyer Jewelers. Photo by Bill Horlacher

BITTERSWEET ENDING

They say that all good things must come to an end, but the Oct. 19 announcement of Moyer Jeweler’s closing was a surprise to Happy Valley. People wondered if perhaps Internet shopping had hurt business, but not so. In fact, says Lori, the store was enjoying “our best year ever — based on sales and on profit.” And if anything, the Internet was helping by facilitating national sales of Penn State jewelry.

So why close down? Lori says she always loved the people and the jewelry, but she didn’t always enjoy the wide scope of responsibilities that came with running Moyer Jewelers. Then in mid-2017, her husband, Chris McKee left the business to join Collegiate Pride, another Moyer family enterprise. In early 2018, a goldsmith left the store. And in mid-2018, long-time operations manager Jim Eberly retired. The cumulative loss of those key people made Lori wonder about the future.

“I entertained the idea of closing then,” she notes, “but in my gut, for whatever reason, I thought I had to try it by myself.”     

Finally, as 2018 wore on, Lori realized it wasn’t going to work for her to continue. And she heard nothing but affirmation from her parents when she decided to close the store.  

“Lots of people thought it would be heartbreaking,” says Gary. “Judy and I didn’t find it heartbreaking. It was wearing Lori out. Working retail is a lot more than the 40 or 50 hours a week that you’re open. You’ve got to go back at night and do all the little things you didn’t get done during the day.

“We were here for a long time,” notes Gary. “We think we worked really, really hard to solve problems for customers and to be fair to everyone who found their way in the front door. So we can walk away without any regrets at all.”

Many of Moyer’s customers, however, feel a sense of loss. Although it is likely another top-quality jewelry store will soon occupy the old location at College and Allen, that business may struggle to match the service and the friendship offered by Moyer’s.

“We drove by their store yesterday,” Matt Rutschky said just a week before Valentine’s Day, “and things got quiet in the car as we drove by. Because we knew that we really missed them.”


Moyer Jewelers said goodbye on Dec. 29, 2018. Photo by Bill Horlacher.



Bill Horlacher is a native of Happy Valley, a 1970 graduate of State College High School and a 1974 graduate of Penn State (journalism). He has spent his last 30 years in service to international students, helping them with personal, cultural and spiritual adjustments to America. After 39 years of living in California, Maryland and Texas, Bill returned to State College in 2013 along with his wife, Kathy.
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