Meet Berwyn’s Entrepreneurs: Kathy Hurst of Hursts’ Berwyn Jewelers
Welcome to Meet Berwyn’s Entrepreneurs! This series is an opportunity to get a sneak peek into the remarkable individuals in Berwyn’s business community. This group of movers and shakers form the backbone of our local economy and keep Berwyn bold, vibrant and Nothing Like A Suburb. Enjoy!
Meet Kathy Hurst of Hursts’ Berwyn Jewelers, est. 1967
Hometown: Berwyn, IL
Residence: Lemont, IL
Some history on Hursts’: It’s amazing to think that this jewelry store has been part of the Berwyn community for the last 89 years. The business was started as Berwyn Jewelers by Michael Hadraba in 1927. In 1942, a young George Hurst worked part-time for Mr. Hadraba. In 1953, Ron Hurst, George’s younger brother, did the same. Later, following Mr. Hadraba’s death, George, Ron and their nephew Chris purchased the business in 1967, and renamed it Hursts’ Berwyn Jewelers. Chris later left the business to move out west. In the meantime, Kathy came to work at the store, first part-time, then later as the store manager. Kathy and Ron soon realized that they had found the loves of their lives and were married.
There is something very special about a family business, and Kathy found real joy working with George and Ron each day for the decades that followed. But things change. George, now 89, understandably retired a few years ago. And after a brave battle with cancer, Ron passed away in 2014. Supported by a great team of employees—and a wonderful group of clients, friends, and the community, the store’s business has continued grow these past two years. However, it’s difficult for one person to fill the shoes of three, so Kathy has decided to close the store in line with Ron and George’s wishes, while the store is still at the top of its game. Fortunately, she and the team will continue to operate the store through the 2016 holiday season, which gives them the opportunity to offer the community many beautiful keepsakes at incredibly low prices.
Kathy notes, “I want to thank all the people: family, employees past and present, friends and clients—many who have become valued friends over the years—for making Hursts’ Berwyn Jewelers more than just a business and into a place of many treasured experiences and memories.”
Kathy’s Bio: Kathy’s entire career has been in an industry that sparkles and on Berwyn’s Cermak Road. On the first day of her junior year at Morton East in 1974, Kathy O’Brien walked into her history class and her teacher Mr. Ron Hurst announced to the class that a part-time job was available at Berwyn Jewelers. She landed the job and worked at the store through high school. Eventually, owners Ron and George’s sister Esther decided to retire from the store management position. At this point, Kathy was attending Morton College and was thrilled to work her way up to store manager. Romance blossomed, and Ron and Kathy were married in June 1977. Kathy has been with the store her entire working life.
What is Hursts’ all about, in Kathy’s Words: Hursts’ Berwyn Jewelers believes jewelry celebrates the individuality of both the wearer and the giver. That’s why we’ve been dedicated to providing the greater Chicago area with an alternative to mall stores and mass merchandise. We make it our mission to carry imaginative designs, gorgeous gemstones, and jewelry that is hand-inspected and finished to the highest quality—all at a fair price and backed by extraordinary customer service. Our commitment to pushing the envelope of fashion and avant–garde design even extends to our choice of diamonds. Hearts On Fire was the first to set the benchmark for consistency and superiority in cutting diamonds to superlative standards under 100x magnification—10 times greater than the industry’s strictest requirements. We are proud to have carried Hearts On Fire longer than another other jeweler in the Chicago area. Importantly, all of our diamonds are Kimberly Process-certified to ensure that they are not “conflict diamonds” used to finance violence.
Are there any special projects that you are proud of?
Hursts’ Berwyn Jewelers has a long history of being an active participant in the Berwyn community. Ron was a creative, forward leader and challenged us to think outside of the box. I am very driven by emotion and often ask myself, “What can I do for others?” This was a winning combination that engaged the store in a number of community driven events over the years. I took great joy in creating events where I could engage our clients in donating items to special causes and show my appreciation to them by giving store incentives and gift certificates. We participated in events such as coat drives with the Township, food drives for food pantries, donating household items to women’s shelters and the list goes on. We supported the Lincoln Middle School Choir on their trip, brought in summer interns and even created a community garden last year where people could get fresh herbs and vegetables. Truly, I believe if you give people the opportunity to do good, they will. They just need the opportunity. My life has been a delightful love story with the community. I have no regrets.
What is your fondest memory?
I always laugh when I think back to my first day on the job at Berwyn Jewelers. There was a well dressed sales person cleaning the glass counters. Just 16 years old, I was stunned. I thought to myself, “Wow! This is such a glamorous job.”
Beyond that, this store is filled with so many memories. We have clients that stay with us for years. They move away and they still reach out to us to celebrate their milestones. In this industry, I see a lot of special occasions and it’s a rare and delicate joy to be a part of their memories. We are involved in incredibly intimate moments like asking the love of your life to marry you. We become friends and I get to hear the story after the purchase of “when she said yes.” I’m there to help them select special charms for their children and to find gifts for their parents. We’re not transactional here. We nurture our clients and are as emotionally invested in their purchases as they are.
Who was your greatest influence?
My husband, partner and best friend, Ron Hurst was my greatest influence. Ron was the consummate teacher in the classroom and in life. He taught me how powerful and important stories are. He was a great storyteller. He taught me to be civic-minded. It was very important for us to earn our right in the community with active involvement, not simply hanging our hats on generating sales and property taxes for the city. Our service to our clients and our town is what makes us special.
Ron was so incredibly dignified during his five year battle with cancer. When he was gone, I was determined to pick up the pieces and hold together this wonderful place that we built together. We’ve morphed some of our offerings and we’ve thrived. Sales have been above industry averages. We’ve gone out of our way to make sure people feel included, which is why you see the rainbow flag with “All Are Welcome” above it. Truly, I want everyone to feel comfortable here whether they have $20 or $200,000 to spend with me.
I am committed to connecting my clients to other jewelers that can help them to service their pieces and to help them continue to make wonderful memories. After that, the only thing I am sure about is that I am not retiring. I would like to take some time to spoil myself with a vacation. I want to do yoga and maybe even learn how to dance. I won’t be the person sitting in a chair quietly reading. I have a servant’s heart, and I’m certain I’ll be volunteering wherever I am called. Since I was thankful for the assistance I received after losing Ron, I’d like to explore working in grief counseling as a possible new career challenge. I am process-oriented, like to solve problems and have deep empathy so that calling makes a lot of sense to me.
It’s hard to walk away from the store. I have such a deep love for my work family and my clients. It’s been a blessed life where I’ve got to touch so many lives and they’ve touched mine. But I think I can make a difference in new ways.