As an 18 year old high school graduate Larry Evans had ambitions of going to college, but he knew his parents couldn’t afford to send him. His alternate plan was to join the Air Force and get an education through the GI bill.
Getting off the bus in downtown Atlanta, Evans found himself in unfamiliar territory. “I wasn’t used to the cussing and guys shooting craps and flashing switchblades. I was a country boy,” Evans laughs. He got a quick case of cold feet. “I asked the sergeant if I had signed anything committing myself to the Air Force, and he said we would take care of the paperwork in the morning. I knew right then that I was heading back home.”
Getting off the bus back in Winder, Evans realized he would have to get a job or do something fast. His parents would make certain he began earning his keep. The bus station was where McDonald’s is now so Evans walked up Broad Street to his Uncle W. O. Evans’ store, The Jewel Box. When he told his uncle what had happened, Uncle Orim suggested he go to school and prepare to take over his jewelry business. Evans believes God had a plan for him, and He was beginning to lay it out.
“I went to North Georgia College to take a two year course in jewelry and watch repair, and I worked at the store when I could,” says Evans. Within six months the instructor was allowing Evans to teach the class. “After 14 months, I went to the teacher and told him that I needed to get out of there and go to work. I knew everything in that course by then. We went up and talked to the dean, and he agreed to give me a diploma after just 14 months.”
In March of 1962 Evans began working fulltime at The Jewel Box. In 1967 he purchased the store from his uncle, and for the next 52 years, Larry Evans would continue his career in downtown Winder at Evans Jewel Box.
Now, Evans is in the process of closing down the business he devoted his life to.
There have been many changes in the jewelry business and also changes in the Winder market through the years. One of the biggest changes in the store came in the bridal business. Evans says the bridal department, consisting of china, crystal and silver, probably made up as much as 60 percent of his business years ago. Evans Jewel Box was the bridal center for Barrow County and also got a lot of business from surrounding counties. All that began to change about 30 years ago from both customers and marketing. The big box corporations took over the business with volume purchasing. Evans says those stores could sell the merchandise for what he had to pay for it. Also, customers began to adopt a more casual lifestyle, and the formal lines lost favor with a large portion of brides.
Evans encountered the same problems with other jewelry and gift lines such as Pandora and Vera Bradley. While he always tried to stay on top of the latest trends and offer the popular lines, he couldn’t compete with the corporate stores that offered a whole store full of that particular line.
Online shopping is another thing that has affected the jewelry and gift business.
Evans says for the last seven or eight years the repair service has become a more and more significant part of his business.
Meanwhile, downtown Winder has seen tremendous changes as well. Evans says he can remember when you could find just about anything you needed in downtown Winder. “Winder used to have four jewelry stores, three drug stores, a shoe store, two variety stores, three department stores, a grocery store and three banks – all that was right here in about a three block area. When the apparel manufacturers left, we lost walking traffic. When all those other businesses left, we lost potential customers.
Another thing is that people haven’t kept up their properties so they are hard to rent out to stable businesses. And then the streetscape project took so long. It kept people away, and we lost revenue.”
Still, Evans is not retiring with negative feelings. He says the business has been good to him. Now serving his second term as a Winder councilman, he plans to keep on trying to make Winder a better place to live and do business. In addition to serving on the city council, Evans has been chairman of the Downtown Development Authority; a board member at the YMCA, Project Adam and the Chamber of Commerce; and an active church member just to name a few things. He has donated money and merchandise to every organization and school in Barrow County.
Evans says he has always tried to do his part in the community, and he has always tried to do right by his customers. He has been recognized for his contributions locally and nationally. Evans received a Distinguished Service Award and Evans Jewel Box received the 2012 Small Business of the Year Award from the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce. Evans was also voted the Jeweler of the Year for the Southeast by the 24 Carat Gold Club in 2000. He considers that a high honor since it was voted on by his peers.
He has been able to raise his twin daughters through the business and both have followed his footsteps. Tracy Evans Kiley has worked alongside her dad at Evans Jewel Box for the past 33 years. She will continue her career at Roberts Co. Jewelers in Tifton, Georgia in 2015. Tammy Evans Morgan purchased the Monroe location of Evans Jewel Box from her dad and ran it until 2006. She is now employed by Floyd Green Jewelers in Aiken, South Carolina. Evans wife of 36 years, Frankie, worked in the business for many years and has always supported him in whatever he has undertaken.
Kiley is anticipating the changes coming for her with the closing of the store. She has also raised her son and daughter through the store. She treasures the chance she has had to work with her dad all these years, and says he deserves the credit for preparing her for her next job.
“My dad has taught me and given me a ‘degree’ in the jewelry business. Without him I wouldn’t have the opportunity I do now. My degree is not from a university, but I think it comes from the best place of learning available – the school of Larry Evans and hard knocks. I hope I have graduated with his honor and blessings.”
Evans and Kiley mention their gratitude, first to God, and then to all their customers and friends.
Evans is looking at this life event philosophically.
“It’s time to move on to another phase in my life now,” he says. “Frankie and I have prayed about this, and we’ve watched for signs from God. I’m not going away. I’m just retiring so I can enjoy some other things in my life.”
There is not a definite date for the store to close, but Evans says he expects it to be before the end of the year. He adds, “That final day that I walk out of here will be a very emotional day.” It’s going to be a sad day for Downtown Winder and Barrow County as a whole.
Article source: http://www.barrowcountynews.com/section/10/article/23430/