Published August 05. 2012 4:00AM
The Grader Jewelers story goes back nearly half a century and represents the American dream come true.
"We started our first store with $350," recalls Lorraine Grader, referring to a watch-repair shop that she and her husband Peter first owned on Long Island. "And we've worked our tail off ever since."
Grader, which started locally in downtown Norwich and is now run by Lorraine's son Mark, currently has shops in Norwich, Groton and Waterford. The Waterford store, previously located on Clark Lane, relocated in March to a free-standing building on Boston Post Road across from the Waterford Post Office.
"Our desire has always been to go to a free-standing building," Mark Grader says.
The circa-1920s office building that most recently had been a dental office did not daunt them. Lorraine decided to open up the jumble of New England corners and dental cubicles into a light-infused, welcoming space that is also energy-efficient.
Suffused in the light are the blonde wood interior, gleaming glass cases, and of course, glowing gems - from diamonds to the full-throated greens of man-made emeralds.
"There's a lot of natural light," says Paula Griggs, who has worked for Grader Jewelers for 13 years.
She is one of 22 employees who work for the Groton-based company.
Customers, says Griggs, have responded positively to the new locale, which Waterford store manager Larry Dahl describes as cheerful.
"It's meant to be friendly and open," says Dahl, who has worked for Grader Jewelers for 28 years - coming on board right out of college, where he was a roommate of Mark's.
And even though there are other jewelers in Waterford - one right down the street - Mark Grader says the proximity is an asset, as it offers customers a chance to visit both places while shopping.
The Graders maintain a brisk business in repairs, keeping two full-time jewelers employed. Jewelry repair and mounting comprises 17 percent of their business, says Lorraine Grader.
Because of the price of gold, the store has turned to more silver, and carries several lines of custom-made jewelry that is hand-forged. The store also sells more platinum or white gold mounts for diamond rings to complement the silver collections.
"There is such a fabulous variety of colored gemstones that with the new economy and new metals market, we have a line of jewelry with fabulous color," Mark Grader says.
Being flexible has been a key to the Graders' endurance. They've been downtown, when people congregated there - they went to a strip mall, and also had a presence in the mall. But now they stand alone - and maybe, in a way, have always, as they are a family business, and can operate with agility while offering a personal touch to customers.
"Integrity and honesty, this will always be a value that people will appreciate," Lorraine Grader says.