Longevity is not only rare, but something to be admired. The faster society goes through trends, the greater the accomplishment of people who stick with something. Douglas Brothers Jewelry in Troy, Alabama garners tremendous respect as a 143-year-old company. Passing down from one generation to the next, this incredible retail jewelry store has its roots in southern plantations and a need to make a living after the war. It’s the true example of a small independent who has been doing business the right way for an awfully long time.
When the time came for Charles Bryant Douglas to step out on his own and start making a living for himself he had only one thing he knew a lot about - farming. Like his brothers and sisters, he’d grown up working on the family’s plantation and he’d learned no other trade. But he was a good southern boy and, at the urging of his mother, he moved to the city (Troy, AL) where he rented a corner room to live in and set up shop as a watch repairman.
But Charles faced one big obstacle, no one came to him for repair. In fact, no one came in at all. Not the first day, nor the second, nor the third. Finally a man from out of town came into his store only to do business with the owner in the back. As he passed Charles on his way out he asked him if he was “any good at fixin’ watches.”
Charles replied, “I think so, sir.” The man pulled out a large pocket watch he used in his job as an engineer on the Alabama-Midland Railroad. He told Charles how important the watch was to him and his job, because without complete accuracy, “there’d be wrecks comin’ and goin’.”
The man had taken the watch to three different watch repair shops and none of them found anything wrong. Yet, the watch still wouldn’t run. He told Charles if he could fix his watch he’d spread the word about his good work and bring him as much work as he could handle.
After laying the watch in front of Charles, he said he’d be back the next Tuesday to pick it up. Charles was not only overwhelmed, but excited as he took the watch apart piece by piece. He oiled and cleaned each separate unit, examining each piece, but didn’t find a single thing wrong with any of it.
He reassembled the parts and wound the watch. Nothing happened. He did it again, going through the same order as before taking extra time to carefully evaluate each piece in great detail. Still, no success.
Charles went home that night and couldn’t stop thinking about the watch. While he ate he pondered about it. Preparing for bed he worried about it. He simply couldn’t find one reason why that watch wouldn’t run.
Before bed Charles asked for God’s help in repairing the watch before finally falling asleep. That night Charles dreamed. He dreamed in vivid color, as lifelike a dream as he had ever had. He could see it all so plain and clear, as a pair of hands held up the balance wheel, turning it toward the light a voice said: “It’s cracked.”
Charles woke right away believing the dream had actually occurred. He couldn’t wait until morning and he immediately got out of bed and examined the watch with the strongest magnifying glass he had. Sure enough, he found a tiny, hairline crack in the wheel that he would never have found without knowing where to look. He was at the store before anyone the next morning and replaced the cracked wheel with a new one. Success! The watch worked. He checked it every fifteen minutes just to make sure it would continue running.
When Tuesday rolled around and the railroad man came back for his watch he could tell by the look on Charles’ face that he’d found the problem. The man, true to his promise, told everyone that Charles could fix anything and it wasn’t long before business was booming and Charles was able to rent a building for himself and his business - Douglas Jewelers.
This is the passed down history of Douglas Brothers Jewelers, as told by Charles’ youngest child, Onyx Douglas Smart. It provides the rich fabric from which this wonderfully old, reputable jewelry store has created a living legacy.
After two of Charles’ sons (Bryant Ivy Douglas and Louis Scherr Douglas) bought him out in the early 1900s, the name of the store officially became Douglas Brothers Jewelers. But after the early death of Bryant in 1938, Louis invited his son-in-law, Claude A. Qualls, Sr., to help for a little while. Claude stayed for more than forty years. The store was bequeathed to Scherr’s daughter, Mary Ivy Douglas Qualls, upon his death in 1968.
Claude and Mary Ivy carried on the family business, and in the 1970s they made two of their sons partial owners in the store: Claude Qualls Jr. and Scherr Douglas Qualls. The brothers were there when the store moved down the street from its original location, leaving the place the store had called home for more than 80 years. Mary Ivy made sure, however, that nothing happened to any of the antique display cases as she kept a watchful eye from Scherr’s chair.
After the death of Claude Sr., in 1992 and Mary Ivy and Claude Jr. in 1999, Scherr Douglas Qualls became sole heir to the family business.
Today Scherr performs all the jewelry and watch repair for the company as well as the engraving. Scherr’s wife, Gwen, and his daughters Ivy Qualls Witherington and Laura Qualls Dykes, along with their sisters Mary Qualls Loving and Jane Qualls Segars, carry on the Douglas Brothers tradition of hard work and sticking with their passion.
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