This year marks the 40th anniversary for Henry's Fine Jewelry, an iconic Ocean City Boardwalk business co-owned by lifelong friends Jeff Sherman and Sam Koperwas.While offering a walk-through tour of the store on a recent afternoon - a square-shaped store with glass jewelry cases at its core and Ocean City apparel hanging on racks and the walls around its perimeter - Sherman shared the story of how their business came to be.
Sherman and Koperwas have been best friends since they were 12-years-olds playing Little League in Brooklyn, N.Y., where both were born and raised.
Sherman's father owned a seasonal souvenir shop on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, where Sherman worked every summer starting as a teen. Koperwas also spent some summers working at the Sherman's family shop in Atlantic City.
Looking back on those summer days, Sherman said he now sees that he and Koperwas were laying the groundwork for their future.
"We got a real taste for resort retail, and we really liked it," Sherman said. "Who wouldn't want to own business with a view looking out at the ocean."
At age 24, Sherman decided to break off from his family's business and start his own. Koperwas, on the other hand, had gone off to college to pursue a different avenue.
Sherman said he was disillusioned by Atlantic City at the time, which was changing for the worse, so he went to Ocean City looking for something different and better.
"I remember I came to Ocean City and took a walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk, and I was like "Wow.' It reminded me of the old Atlantic City. There were all kinds of families out there, people everywhere, the Boardwalk was crowded, the stores were nice," he said. "I said to myself, 'This is where I want to be.'"
That was the day that would seal their fate. During his walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk, Sherman passed by Henry's storefront, which at the time was up for rent.
"I called the landlord," he said. "I didn't really have any money, but I was 24 years old and full of determination, so I called my mother and asked her to borrow $5,000, then I called Sam and asked him to borrow $5,000."
Koperwas wanted in.
"I didn't know what I was getting myself into at the time, but looking back on it, I couldn't have made better decision," he said. "Ocean City is now a huge part of my life. It's home."
The two became business partners, opening Henry's Fine Jewelry in the summer of 1972, about one-fourth the size of what it is today.
"So we started our business with $10,000 and a dream," Sherman said, circling around the glass jewelry cases, pointing out the display of popular Pandora beads and diamond pendants. "We're one of the largest retailers of Pandora beads in the United States," he said.
Sherman said Henry's Fine Jewelry has changed over the years to meet the needs of its customers, including rotating its inventory and opening a second location, about a decade after the first, in Cape May. When Henry's first opened, the focus was selling Indian jewelry, which at the time was in high demand. Today, it's Pandora, he said. But regardless of the changing times, its business model has always been the same - "To give a great shopping experience, to make the store fun and to give great quality. We are an alternative to the big box stores, and that is very important to us. We have a full-time bench man who goes out and interacts with our customers, longtime staff who are like family, and we love what we do."
As for the future of Henry's Fine Jewelry, Sherman said he and Koperwas plan to keep working until they physically cannot. He said they are happy with how their lives have turned out and are proud to be a part of Ocean City's history.
"I fell in love with Ocean City back them," Sherman said. "I still am in love with it today."
Contact Elisa Lala:
If you go
Henry's Fine Jewelry has two locations:
1236 Boardwalk, Ocean City (main location) and 407 Washington St. Mall, Cape May
Call 800-214-4435, or visit henrysoc.com