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Century-old business expands downtown

Jewelry store adds designer lines, sitting area

Jewelry store adds designer lines, sitting area

December 17, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

Tom Newcomer, by title, is the owner of R. Bruce Carson Jewelers, a century-old business in downtown Hagerstown.

He said he thinks of himself as something else.

"I only want to improve it," Newcomer said of the business. "I feel like a steward of something that is going to outlive me."

Improving the business included a recent expansion that doubled the square footage of the store and allowed Newcomer to display more items and add more products to his inventory.

The store carries jewelry ranging in price from $25 to tens of thousands of dollars. The expansion allowed the store to carry more lower-priced items as well as more designer lines, including jewelry from Hearts on Fire and Judith Ripka.

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The expansion also created a space in which events can be held and it has a sitting area with coffee, tea, light snacks and plush chairs facing a flat-screen television.

"We want to make it a comfortable experience," Newcomer said. "We really did more than double our space, but it also built some creature comforts in."

Jewelry carried in the store ranges from classic to contemporary, and the shop also carries original pieces.

For several years, Newcomer had talked to officials with the Washington County Commission on Aging about expanding his store. The Commission on Aging's offices were next door, but the agency recently relocated - providing Newcomer with the opportunity he desired.

He leases the space in the building and decided to invest in the expansion. Construction began in August and wrapped up just before Thanksgiving.

The former office space was mostly destroyed, although old windows with wavy glass were left intact. A wall remained in place separating the new from the old space, leaving customers in the dark about what the new space was going to look like.

"Oh my God, isn't this wonderful," a customer recently exclaimed as she walked up a short staircase to the new space.

That's a common response, Newcomer said.

All of the store's nine employees helped to design the space, voicing ideas they had about how to make it better. Employees include a jeweler and watchmaker, both of whom work on the premises and do on-site repairs, engravings and appraisals.

'Part of what's happening downtown'

Newcomer is the fourth owner of the store and took it over from his father in 1994. Bruce Carson originally opened the shop in 1902 on Washington Street near the current University System of Maryland site, and moved it to its present site in 1929.

Newcomer said that the idea of moving the store has crossed his mind. But no plans beyond that were developed.

"Part of my heart is here, knowing the history here. I know that sounds sappy, but it's true," he said.

In the square at Washington and Potomac streets, the store has been a mainstay for years and will remain that way.

"We see it as a part of what's happening downtown," Newcomer said.

Downtown Hagerstown is "turning the corner," but Newcomer said he would like to see more retail businesses open and have the residential portion of town be a better mix of the population.

"I'd like to see more young professionals consider the downtown as a place to live," he said.

Overall, though, he said he's optimistic and said there is no reason Hagerstown could not be as vibrant as Frederick, Md., which is known for its downtown shopping and restaurants.

"I hope our expansion will inspire others to look at their businesses and see this is a good place to be and a good place to invest," he said.

Cutline: By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Tom Newcomer chats with Nicole Hampton inside the newly expanded R. Bruce Carson Jewelers in downtown Hagerstown. Newcomer says he considers himself a steward of the business, which was started in 1902.

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