EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The jewelry business is not much different from the retail trade where Ely Cohen got his start in southern New Jersey.
Cohen, of Egg Harbor Township, owns Palace Diamonds in the Shore Mall, where he has sold engagement rings, necklaces and custom-made jewelry for the past 23 years.
He has been working in retail all of his life, first by running his late father’s gift store and then four of his own on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
“We sold high-end gifts. We sold to lots of famous people: Wayne Newton, Joan Rivers, Aretha Franklin,” Cohen said. “We go back to the old days before the casinos in Atlantic City.”
The family liquidated its Boardwalk businesses when his father suffered a stroke, he said. Cohen started fresh at the Shore Mall, keeping the Palace Diamonds name from when his shop was in the Atlantic Palace Hotel.
Today, the store specializes in custom-made jewelry, repairs, sizing and service. The store carries a wide variety of engagement rings, watches and one-of-a-kind pieces.
“We can hand-make anything on the premises. When you go to a chain store for resizing, they ship it out for two weeks,” he said. “We can do it in an hour.”
Cohen’s stores got into the jewelry business through a steady consignment service his gift stores offered, he said. Eventually, he learned enough about the business to focus exclusively on that.
Cohen said he and his crew worked from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.
“But I don’t miss the break-ins,” he said. “In those days you couldn’t have a gate on your Boardwalk store. The alarm would go off in the middle of the night and you’d have to go down there in the rain or snow and talk to the police and board up the window and wait there all night. Retail is insane. It’s hard.”
One of his employees, saleswoman Anne Remme, 93, of Atlantic City, has been working for Cohen for more than 40 years. She takes a bus to work every morning.
Now, after 23 years at the Shore Mall, Cohen is facing a new start again. The proposed demolition of a portion of the mall will force several tenants to seek a new location. Cohen plans to open a new store at the English Creek Shopping Center in Egg Harbor Township.
“It’s a good location. There are lots of stores there. They get lots of traffic,” Cohen’s wife, Sara, said. “I’m very excited. I’m spending money on it now even before we buy it.”
She works behind the counter at the store and especially enjoys helping men choose engagement rings, she said.
“They’re nervous when they come in,” she said.
The store buys gold jewelry at rates that change with the market. Gold is in high demand right now, as advertisements in front of other stores in the Shore Mall indicate.
Gold is selling now for about $1,699 per ounce or about 6 percent more than six months ago, according to goldprice.org.
Many customers today are selling their old gold jewelry and buying Argentium silver instead, a more affordable precious metal used in fine jewelry. Cohen said he is buying some jewelry for nearly three times as much as people bought it from him decades ago.
His store makes about 1 percent profit on the gold he buys. But the prices have been steadily on the rise so he has to adjust his pricing regularly to keep up with competitors.
“Nobody is getting rich. We’re just surviving,” he said. “We invest everything we make back in the store.”
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