Meet your merchant: Couple celebrating 50th year in business at Stevenson’s Jewelry Supply in Grass Valley
Stevenson’s Jewelry Supply
462 Colfax Ave., Grass Valley, CA 95945
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
9:30 to 2 p.m. Fridays. Closed weekends.
The Stevenson family has never shied away from a hard day’s work.
Byron Stevenson’s grandparents came out from the Dakotas to farm cotton in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. Early in the 1900s they picked up and moved to Nevada County, where they started a goat farm on Banner Mountain. Young Byron was put to work at an early age, learning construction, along with bouts of digging wells by hand.
He was set up on a weekend blind date in Tahoe with a young Montana native named Lois, and the two eventually married in a little chapel on the South Shore. Still in their early 20s, the pair became extremely creative when it came to making money for a home and children. Over the years, Byron continued in construction, but he and Lois also became “psych techs” at two state psychiatric hospitals. Later, when their own children came along, Lois provided in-home care for six severely disabled children, while Byron went back to working exclusively in construction closer to their Grass Valley home.
One day, while digging a leach line near Chicago Park, Bryon spotted a flash of green in the mud. It was moss agate, a semi-precious gemstone formed from silicon dioxide. That discovery sparked a life-long fascination with rocks, which would eventually change the course of his life.
“My dad has always loved rocks,” said Byron’s daughter, Julie. “We spent many weekends — hours and hours — out rock hunting in the desert. One of his favorite spots was the Black Rock Desert, 100 miles north of Reno, which is now where the Burning Man festival is.”
Open up shop
In 1969, the Stevensons opened a small store, “Rock and Clay,” on Colfax Avenue in Grass Valley. Julie was 12, and helped out in the shop after school. Her mother, Lois, would oversee the ceramics side of the business, and her father sold his cherished rocks. But the ever-industrious Byron also soon took an interest in silver-smithing and before long he was teaching evening classes on the side. Word of his skill, technique and aptitude for design began to spread, and soon people were asking Byron to fix, design and re-create their jewelry.
By the mid 1970s, the jewelry aspect of the business began to eclipse all other aspects of the store, and the Stevensons opted to change direction and launch Stevenson’s Jewelry Supply in the same location.
They’ve never looked back.
In May, the Stevensons will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of their family business. With Byron, Lois and Julie consistently working together five days a week, the busy store sees a constant stream of customers coming through the door and they’ve never had to advertise. Another draw is 4-year-old Ruby, a Pekingese-Pomeranian mix, deemed the official store greeter.
“Over the years, our advertising has been solely through word of mouth,” said Julie. “I think the reason we have so many loyal customers is because we’re reasonable — and we do a good job. We have one family of customers that has been coming in for four generations. We’re so grateful to our long-time customers who have spread the word over the years.”
While sales in jewelry supplies have taken a significant hit since people began buying items online, jewelry repair, custom design and estate jewelry sales have remained constant. The store also boasts an impressive inventory of precious and semi-precious stones. Byron does specialty stone-cutting.
“The internet killed a lot of things,” said Byron, who is now in his early 80s. “But there’s a service here you can’t get off the internet. The reward of owning your own business is that you are self-employed. But the drawback is that you work all the time. We’ve been busy all our lives.”
“My daughter once said to me, ‘How nice — you don’t have any bosses,’” said Julie, with a laugh. “I told her, ‘Every customer who walks through the door is a boss.’”
Over the years the Stevensons have managed to squeeze in a little fun and quite a bit of community service. There are several hot air balloon pilots in the family, including Byron, and the family owns six. Fortunate enough to buy property on the big island of Hawaii in the early 80s, the Stevensons have recently spent time there after many years. In the early years, they volunteered to help build a church school on the island of Molokai.
Back in the shop, Lois says the business would not be as successful as it is without their daughter, Julie.
“Yup,” echoed Byron. “I love my daughter.”
But Julie is quick to hand the credit to her parents, who always go the extra mile and still love what they do.
“My parents are introverts — they’re very private people,” said Julie. “But they’re very personable and humble, with a lot of integrity. That’s the real reason we keep so busy.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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With a 5.9% unemployment rate, Nevada County ranked 12th out of the state’s 58 counties in employment rate last month, according to the latest data released by the state Employment Development Department.