Greenville is a small town in southern Alabama. The town’s website invites those traveling the interstate north to Birmingham or Atlanta, or south to the Gulf coast beaches to get off the highway and “slow down in Greenville.” It prides itself on southern hospitality and traditions and has maintained the small town feel.
On the town’s main street, operating as McFerrin’s Jewelry today, is a mom and pop style jewelry store run by three generations of women who have invested their lives in serving their community and their customers. When the store opened in 1985 it was called the Crystal Fountain and featured china, crystal and silver along with jewelry and watches.
Original owner, Sue McFerrin, opened the business with her brother and sister-in-law, Evelyn and Dan Pride, when her brother retired from a military career. “I had worked in a jewelry store since I was 18 years old and it was the business I loved. My family knew that and said, ‘lets open our own shop,’” says Sue McFerrin.
With 68 years in the jewelry business so far, Ms. Sue must love the business. She had worked for three or four jewelers, all located along East Commerce Street in Greenville, also known as Front Street to the McFerrin women, before opening her own store. The Crystal Fountain opened in what once was a gas station and later a bread company. The historic brick building sports large arched windows that once were the drive in bays for the service station.
In the early nineties McFerrin’s daughter, Susan, and her husband, Bob Foster, took over the business and changed the name to McFerrin’s Jewelry in honor of founder Sue McFerrin. Both started working in the store after the retirement of Evelyn and Dan Pride. Bob became know as “Diamond Bob” after learning the diamond business and catering to grooms and their brides to be. Susan was the business end of the company; managing the books, payroll and invoices and orders. And Susan’s mother, Sue, continued to come to work every day as she had since 1944.
The third generation of McFerrin women entered the business officially less than two years ago. Jehle (pronounced yea-lee) McFerrin Foster had been working in the store like all jewelers’ families do as long as she can remember. After graduation from Samford University in Birmingham with a fine arts degree, Jehle had to decide if she would stay in Birmingham and pursue a career using her training in pottery and painting or move home and join the business.
When she decided to return home, she looked at her family’s beloved business with a critical eye and decided an update was needed. Jehle’s mom, Susan, controls the business and told Jehle that if she wanted to remodel she would have to do all the work herself and gave her a budget. Jehle found carpeting and convinced her dad Bob and a family friend to help her paint the showroom area, offices, gift wrap area and “nature room” which houses indoor and outdoor products and gifts.
Although only 24 years old, Jehle has a very “old soul.” She loves all things and traditions from the past and honors them and her family completely. When speaking with her about her grandmother and her 68 year career it is evident that she admires her.
“My grandmother comes to work every day and never takes time off. If we let her, she would probably be the first to come in and the last to leave. She has her own customers who have been coming to her for decades. She can remember every bride’s patterns and has the records to help her if some are less memorable. She has built a clientele that has followed her faithfully and would not think of sending a gift to a wedding shower or new baby any other way than from McFerrin’s,” said Jehle.
The elder McFerrin still travels to the Atlanta Jewelry Show and the Atlanta gift market with the other two generations every year to help select merchandise including tabletop, giftware, jewelry and watches for the store.
Jehle says that while she was brought up with fine things, she was taught to never take them for granted. At two weeks old she wore a 14kt gold bracelet that she teethed on until it was too small and it was replaced with a larger one. She and her mother and grandmother are very traditional, not trendy, and believe that classic, beautiful taste never goes out of style.
Jehle can remember attending her first Atlanta Jewelry show at around 16 and being taken under the wing of Rebecca Shemwell, owner of Tracy Pearls. “My parents would leave me in Rebecca’s booth and I would watch her work. I learned a lot about pearls and I learned a lot about how to work with customers. Everyone that came to her booth ended up with at least a strand in their pocket or around their neck, others much more. She is a people person and just like my grandmother, showed me how to connect with people.”
Second generation Susan prefers the back room and the books to the sales floor. When she is not at the store she utilizes her master’s degree in the classroom working as a math teacher. Where Susan likes to stay home, Jehle and her father, “Diamond Bob,” sometimes go out to dinner on a Friday night together and while they know most everyone in town (her dad is also known as “Travel Bob” as he is a travel agent and works full time as human resources manager at the local hospital) often they hear, “your wife is so beautiful,” and Bob smiles and corrects them that this is his daughter.
Aware that her youth often won’t instill the confidence in customers that her grandmother long ago earned, Jehle is anxious to get some training and education under her belt. She has spoken with the GIA and attended the day long pearl seminar at the August Atlanta Show.
“We’re just a mom and pop store but we take care of our customers. More than we want to make money, we want our customers to be happy. We promise to meet any price around and are known in our county for being honest,” says Jehle.
It must be true as the business has attracted a brand new generation of merchant, one that has put up a Facebook page for the store and has her cell number on her card so her customers can call her at any time.
Three generations of strong women are shoulder to shoulder to confront the challenges that the virtual world and its global economy will throw at them. Jehle has a lot to learn, but it appears she has two excellent teachers already and has an excellent foundation on which to stand.
And by the way, don’t forget to call Sue in September and wish her a happy birthday. Something tells me she will be in the store anytime you call to wish her a happy 86th birthday!
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