“I had wanted to own my own jewelry store ever since I was in high school” remarked Gary Hudes, proprietor of Gennaro Jewelers on Bedford Avenue in Bellmore, on the occasion of the store’s 95th anniversary year.
The jewelry store was crowded when Your NewsMag came in to “investigate” word of the store’s 95th year of continuous service to the community, a store that began by selling clocks and giftware and was second only to Weinman’s Hardware on Bedford Avenue until Roy closed the hardware store in 2015. Gennaro’s opened on May 3, 1923, as von der Heydt Jewelers.
“Mr. von der Heydt was a German clockmaker who was pictured on scaffolding during the installation of a clock at one of the Jones Beach bathhouses,” remarked Hudes of the store’s origins. The photo hangs on a wall at the jewelers.
Von der Heydt played an integral part in providing clocks and fine gifts such as jewelry, glassware, decorative plates and watches to the community until Louis Gennaro purchased the “gem” of a store in 1962. Gennaro, too, was a watchmaker, or horologist, who “timed” his purchase of the store perfectly with von der Heydt’s desire to retire.
Giftware needs tremendous space within the store to stock all the varieties of gifts available, said Hudes, and “big box” stores such as Fortunoff’s became perfect-sized stores to carry new and expanding lines of gifts with all the floor space available, which von der Heydt didn’t have.
In fact, Gennaro’s office space in back used to be where von der Heydt lived, said Hudes. Once he sold and moved out, Gennaro converted the home space to office space.
While a student at Pascack Valley High School in New Jersey who studied art Gary Hudes said he “fell in love working with metals on metals, such as soldering and joining,” during his days there. He credits his art teacher Bill Graziano with “starting my whole career in jewelry.” He said that, while Graziano could teach him during the day how to solder metals together using proper tools, “I had to devise my own crude tools to keep working at home.”
Hudes eventually sold a few pieces of his “creations” in between classes, he said, as he continued to work from home after school. Earnings he made went toward purchasing better tools to permit him to expand his meager-if-burgeoning line of homemade jeweled creations.
As an art major with a specialty in jewelry attending Montclair University he set upon two particularly important classes: art and industrial art. “In art classes I focused on designs while the industrial arts classes provided me with tools and equipment ” with which to cut materials more precisely and efficiently, helping him further shape his practical approach to creating jewelry.
“My pieces were less crude than my first attempts,” he recalls. Indeed, he says he comes across a few of his early pieces that are still around, which give him historical perspective with which to ponder his career development.
With his dream since high school to manage, if not outright own, a jewelry store, in 1979 he got his first chance at it: He saw an advertisement for a general manager to run Gennaro’s in Bellmore.
“Gennaro had turned his watch store into a jewelry store by then,” Hudes remembers. “He learned about jewels.” Gennaro Jewelers sold clocks, watches, jewelry and giftware, Hudes said, though any jewelry the shop sold had to be sent out to a third party for repairs.
With his talents as a jeweler and his desire to manage a jewelry business Hudes said that Gennaro saw a good balance in hiring him for the position. “Lou Gennaro saw the opportunity in hiring me to be able to bring jewelry repair back in-house,” said Hudes, and offer to repair the jewelry while the customer observed the repairs.
Hudes has staked his now-enviable reputation on the simple fact that in observing jewelry repairs being done while the customer is on-premises, there is no chance that the precious jewels will be swapped out for some inferior jewel. “It takes from as little as 15 minutes to two hours to repair, reconfigure or clean a piece of jewelry,” he told Your NewsMag.
Hudes said that in the age of the internet, jewelry service is what it’s all about at Gennaro’s. “You can buy your jewels over the internet, but will you send them back to be repaired, do they know what size your finger is, can they measure it right there?” he says of internet jewelry repair.
What sets Gennaro’s apart from the big-box stores such as Kay’s, Zale’s and others is “Friendly, personal and knowledgeable service,” said Hudes.
Among many services provided while customers observe is watch repair, sizing and re-sizing rings, polishing jewelry, remodeling jewelry, resetting diamonds and updating designs using CAD tools. Laser is now used because of its pinpoint accuracy to join metals with stones because lasers will not harm the stone.
A Wantagh woman, now living in Lake Grove and getting married the day after Your NewsMag spoke with her, said she was getting her engagement ring resized and cleaned for her big day.
Christina Montalbano said she could watch the cleaning take place, which would only take several minutes, and that she had heard through word-of-mouth of Gennaro’s prompt customer service. “I like that I can watch the jeweler clean it,” she said.
“Gennaro’s has a reputation for being trustworthy,” remarked Jodi Waterman of Merrick. She was getting her engagement ring transformed into a necklace, and she said she could watch the procedure done while she waited.
An East Meadow woman, who requested anonymity while waiting on two jewelry repairs, said she has been coming to Gennaro’s for 45 years. She added that she would not go anywhere else for repairs. “It’s all about their customer service,” she said. “I trust everyone in this store completely with my jewelry.”
Maryjane Camilleri, proprietor of Dear Little Dollies on Bedford Avenue, said she brings several of her family legacy jewels in for cleanings and repairs. “Gennaro’s features the most informed and polite employees” who are both artistic and insightful in their approaches to jewelry to help make the best decisions about them.