So Long: Grimball Jewelers Shutters After the Christmas Season

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Berkeley on the cover of the September/October 2009 Chapel Hill Magazine

“How did you get into the jewelry business?” I am often asked. “Did your father start this business?” Not a bad guess – a large number of retail jewelry stores are passed from one generation to the next, but in my case it’s because my UNC college roommate, Pablo Lancella, went to Amsterdam one summer and learned to make simple wire jewelry, which he then taught me. So with entrepreneurial zeal we decided we could make a business of it. And we did. And it worked. And I thought, “Wow, I’m making money and meeting girls at the same time, what could be better than this?”

Now, nearly half a century later I have never found anything better. I love everything about the jewelry business (except the amount of time spent on all fours looking for some tiny thing). Creating and providing objects of intense and lasting beauty to people at joyous moments in their lives requires a unique set of skills and abilities encompassing art, science and an understanding of the human spirit. It has never ceased to be fascinating and gratifying.

So I was sad and disappointed when I learned last spring that after 33 years in business and 18 years in our current location, our landlord was not going to renew our lease and I would need to move, or close, Grimball Jewelers. It has been the most difficult decision of my life, each option with huge upsides and downsides. I would go to bed having decided on one and wake up in the middle of the night deciding on the other, often paralyzed with fear and anxiety over making the wrong decision.

But I have decided to close. The universe, fate, my guardian angels or whoever it is that sometimes seems to pull the invisible strings of our lives, has conspired to convince me to leap into the void, scary as it is, and see what kind of next chapter I can create with what vitality and mobility remains to me. It will certainly involve playing a lot more music. I will miss so much the joy on the face of someone the first time they see their completed custom piece, a new client saying, “Everyone says we should come to you,” the opportunity to fix someone’s little problem and not charge them and not least the fact that my name is on the building – twice!

I do not have the words to express the gratitude I feel for everyone who has made this an incredible run with me. I never imagined when I opened in Carr Mill Mall in 1985 in 350 square feet with two small cases of handmade jewelry that we would come as far as we have. Thank you to all my wonderful employees who have given so much of themselves and taught me so many lessons. Thank you to this marvelous community full of smart and caring people who have supported us and let us be your personal jeweler. And thanks for the opportunity to tell my story. Onward and upward.

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Berkeley Grimball

Berkeley Grimball started making jewelry in college with three tools and two techniques. Many tools and techniques later, he still creates at Grimball Jewelers, a 31-year-old Chapel Hill institution, on South Elliott Road.
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