Passing the Torch

| September 30, 2011
Brian and Bill Merkley.

Brian and Bill Merkley.

After more than 50 years of service at the third-oldest independent jeweler in the country, Bill Merkley of Merkley Kendrick Jewelers is passing down the family business to his son, Brian Merkley.

Bill, a second generation Merkley, is leaving his legacy behind with a retirement sale celebration that will be held through Saturday, Oct. 8, at Merkley Kendrick.

In five decades as a jeweler, Bill has gathered a collection of interesting, comical and, as he joked, a few “off the record” stories through his interactions with customers who entrusted him to find the perfect piece of jewelry to celebrate weddings, birthdays and other significant occasions.

We sat down with Bill and Brian to learn about Bill’s 50 years in the business and how Brian plans to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Why did you decide to retire now?
Bill: It’s time. (He laughs.) Once you get to a certain point in your life you decide it’s time to do it.

Do you have any big plans post-retirement?
Bill: Besides driving my wife crazy? I get to do that full time instead of part time now.

Brian is taking over the family business. Is there any pressure on you, Brian, from your dad?
Brian: I don’t think there’s any pressure. We transitioned the business about four years ago.

Bill: I started grooming him from the time that I knew he was going to take over the business to handle employees and all of those good things. Even before it changed over to his hands, he had a tremendous amount of experience.

Donald Merkley, Don Powell and Bill Merkley in the 1970s.

Donald Merkley, Don Powell and Bill Merkley in the 1970s.

Brian: I’ve been here 16 years. I don’t have any real reservations about it. Dad still lives here locally, and I’m sure there will be regular coffee meetings between us. He’s told me he’s available whenever I have an issue. He’s still around as a mentor.

What do you think has helped this store stand apart from other jewelry stores?
Bill: Quality, service, personal relationships, being ethical.

Brian: I’d say (being ethical is) a big one. In our industry, that’s not a feather in a lot of people’s caps.

What all do you sell here?
Brian: Our industry, like all industries, has continued to segment. Somebody goes specifically into pearls or bridal or watches. But we’ve continued to do in-house repairs and custom-design; we sell pearls, colored stones, bridal and watches. We’re one of the few remaining all-encompassing jewelers.

What are the best-selling items at the store?
Brian: Watches, diamond jewelry and estate jewelry, or “previously loved” – some of (the estate jewelry) is vintage or period pieces that are very typical of certain time periods design-wise and gemstone-wise. There’s art deco, Victorian, Edwardian. All of these periods have designs that look similar to each other and people will collect within those certain time periods.

Bill: We’ve sold a lot of unique estate pieces. We do a lot in bridal in estate pieces. Uniqueness is an attribute that attracts people and a lot of the younger generations to it.

Gray & Merkley, The Vogue Center.

Gray & Merkley, The Vogue Center.

In 50 years have you gathered a lot of loyal customers?
Bill: I have sold engagement rings to some of my customers’ grandchildren. So it’s kind of neat to follow through the family. One of the neat things about this business is you’re sharing in customers’ celebrations. It’s not a death they’re celebrating; it’s an anniversary, a wedding, a birthday – all of the fun things in life we get to share with them.

Do you have any memories that stick out over the last 50 years?
Bill: There’s some comical ones. (The job has) always made for good stories. When (the kids) were in grade school at Holy Trinity, one of their friends thought that we had a company jet and (the kids) came home and asked where the company jet was. I said, “What are you talking about?” and they said, “We heard at school that we have a company jet.” I said, “We’re just going to have to look around and find that sucker.” And we still haven’t found it.

Do any memories stick out of you and your dad over the last 16 years working together?
Brian: I just remember when I came here I was completely green. We didn’t talk about the business a lot as kids. We had all worked here doing the mail, sweeping the floors, making hand-made bows for the packages they wrapped, vacuumed – those types of things. He really took me under his wing and taught me everything and has been my mentor ever since.

2009 Family Picture.

2009 Family Picture.

What do you think your customers have been saying about your retirement?
Bill: “I’m glad that SOB is gone.” (He laughs.) A lot of customers stopped in. A number of them weren’t here to buy anything, they just wanted to wish me well, which is kind of neat that they think that much of you to do that.

Do you have any words of wisdom for your son as far as carrying on the family business?
Bill: Carry on the long tradition that we’ve always had with giving our customers the best value with the unique pieces and service. Service is an important factor in this business.

For information, visit

The Merkley Kendrick Retirement Sale will run through Saturday, Oct. 8. Inventory is on sale with discounts from 20 to 60 percent off.

Located at 138 Chenoweth Lane, the store is open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

courtesy photos

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Ashley Anderson

Ashley spends half her time writing stories at The Voice-Tribune office and half her time out on the town conducting interviews, while occasionally dressing in wild outfits to fully immerse herself in the experience (aka Princess Leia at Comic Con). Ashley is a huge UofL fan and loves the Yankees and the Boston Celtics (she is fully aware of the irony). She hopes to one day outshine Erin Andrews on ESPN and enjoys running, Bardstown Road/Fourth Street, Breaking Bad and reality TV (she’s not ashamed to admit that).

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