The principles upon which Gary Davis and his wife, Miriam Fankhauser Davis, run their business are similar in quality to pocket watch parts in the century-old timepieces that Gary fixes and sells. Popping the back off of a watch from the 1890s, Gary points to the rhythmically moving pieces. “See that?” he asks. “All these pocket watches are over 100 years old, and they’re still running. These ones here won’t even be running in 15 years,” he says, referring to the quartz wristwatches in the display case.
Fankhauser Jewelry is still running after almost 70 continuous years. In fact, it’s been around for so long that what was once status quo, the Mom-and-Pop shop, now neatly fits a nouveau socio-political business category, “Local First,” in that old-is-the-new-new kind of way. After having first worked for other area jewelers, Miriam’s father, Ephraim Fankhauser, a master watchmaker who emigrated to the U.S. from Switzerland, started his own local business in the early 1940s, and established Fankhauser Jewelry in its current Sugar House location in 1946. Fankhausers sells high quality gemstone jewelry, but functions primarily as a watch, clock, and jewelry repair business. “I enjoy working on old stuff and putting a heartbeat back into it,” Gary affably quips.
Through the years, Gary and Miriam both worked for the business, taking control of the store in 1972. What Gary remembers about the Sugar House suburb of yore is that it was a lot “nicer.” People dressed nattier, 2100 South had curbside parking, and the stores presented a classier front. Gary comments that “the stores now are run-of-the-mill. There’s nothing special about them.” He recalls the colorful variety that once enlivened the commercial neighborhood, including the Hygeia ice skating rink, a tuxedo store, sporting goods store, barber shop, and the Sugar House Bowling Alley, where Wally, who later opened Wally’s Coin Shop (now All About Coins), worked as a pin-setter, manually resetting the pins after bowlers knocked them down.
When you enter Fankhauser Jewelry today, you don’t feel like you’re being manipulated by commercial scheming or assaulted by marketing strategies. After you’ve been buzzed in, life on the inside feels very much like life on the outside. What the store’s unpretentious interior lacks in modern flair, the Davis’ make up for in genuine neighborliness. Like most small business owners, Gary and Miriam are on a first name basis with their customers. “We know their life history, and they know ours. It’s like being in one big family.” And it is, since they have third and fourth-generation customers. “We don’t advertise,” Gary explains. “Most of our business is word of mouth. If a new customer is a young person, they’re usually the younger relative of someone local.”
Business feels like life, and life like business, a quality that is lacking in the modern consumer experience. “We’re laid back,” Gary maintains. “We’re not pressure salesmen like the big box stores, and we stay in quality.” Gary has heard more than once that someone who bought jewelry from him had it appraised at different jewelers and was given a dollar value greater than what they paid. “We’ve always offered the same thing: service, quality and price,” Gary lists, which is how Fankhauser Jewelry has competed over the years “with all the big boys, like Shane Company,” and made it.