Eli Chung/News Flash and Sheila Huff stand behind the counter in Huff’s Fine Jewelry. The sign that says “Your husband called and said you can buy anything you want” is a running joke in the store. Some customers take pictures of it to bring home to their spouses.

FREDERICKTOWN — Retirement is bittersweet for the owners of Huff’s Fine Jewelry after 32 years of successful business. After many years of being a part of other people’s special moments since 1987, Gordon “Flash” and Sheila Huff are ready to close their doors and enjoy their own time with family.

With a closing sale underway, the Huffs still have a stream of customers coming through for the holiday season before their store will be permanently closed.

Flash, a mellow man in his 60s, spoke in a sure and steady voice. He lamented that he did not have someone who was a “right fit” to continue his business.

“I feel bad for the county and the town…A store closing, I never liked that.” Flash Huff said, adding, “The community has been good to me.”

Both Fredericktown locals, Flash and Sheila have deep family roots in town and are fairly well known in the community.

The Huffs ran their business from top to bottom — accounting, inventory, sales and services — upholding the quality and a strong down home relationship with customers.

“People that have came here over the years, I think, are expecting something a little bit nicer than the norm, and that’s what we’ve always tried to maintain in here,” said Flash.

Always tinkering with things as a kid, Flash attended a mechanical architecture class in high school and drifted into the precise, detail oriented work, “But I really liked the jewelry aspect of things.”

Flash said that he started investigating to further his education and found Gem City College in Quincy, Illinois — one of the small handful of jewelry schools in the country 50 years ago. He then went on to continue his education at the Gemological Institute of America.

After graduation, Flash Huff worked in three different stores doing repairs, sales and eventually moving onto the more business-oriented side of the jewelry field.

Flash said it was a good thing to learn all aspects of the business because he would go on to start his own shop with his wife Sheila.

Sheila is a well dressed woman with elegant posture. At Huff’s Fine Jewelry, she took care of accounting, inventory and spent a lot of time talking to customers.

Sheila did not have a formal background in jewelry and said she learned a lot from running the store. She was the one to open the store on the day of the interview and spent much of the morning tending around the shop.

The Huffs said they worked well together.

Even before they opened Huff’s Fine Jewelry, the couple were already doing business from their home, transporting jewelry and making transactions in the evening after Flash returned from work.

“My wife and I talked about it, and decided, if we’re able to do this over a kitchen table, wonder how things would go if we had our own store?” said Flash.

Around the time when the Huffs were considering opening a store, Flash was also contacted by Gem City College to teach at the school in Illinois.

“But you know, when you grow up around here, you have certain ties with people. And I had family here,” Flash said. The school made him a good offer, but it was a good decision to stay in Fredericktown and open his own store.

Local ties and family not only rooted Flash in Fredericktown but had been with Huff’s Fine Jewelry from the beginning. When Flash went to the bank for a business loan to start the jewelry store, the local branch manager was his Little League baseball coach.

“He had coached me when I was just a little kid, and now here we were as adults,” Flash reminisced.

Huff’s Fine Jewelry’s opening was similarly familiar and down to earth. Instead of a grand opening, as the Huffs were still setting up the store, a local doctor came in and bought a watchband. After the doctor left, a different customer pulled up, then the next, and the business took off from there.

“My dad happened to be in here at the time.” Flash said, smiling. “I looked at my dad, and I said, ‘You know, I think we’re open!’”

The shop had a 45-mile selling radius, according to Flash, but they made many sales to local customers in the rural community.

Flash shared a story in which two sales representatives from New York and Chicago were in his store when a customer came in.

The customer turned out to be a local man who made maple syrup; Flash used to ride on the back of the man’s tractor as a kid, helping with the harvest.

Flash put a new pin in the man’s watch and gave him another day for payment; the man went back to his car and brought Flash a bottle of maple syrup.

Later, a truck pulled up and a chicken farmer came in for a watch buckle. Flash similarly served him and gave him another day for payment; the chicken farmer then gifted him with a dozen of eggs.

Flash said the two representatives from New York and Chicago were dumbfounded.

“They said, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this happened anywhere before. Never saw people bring food in,’” Flash laughed. “I said, ‘Well, we don’t make much money here, but we eat good.”

Being in a close-knitted community, the Huffs were the holder of the town’s intimate moments especially during holidays. Flash said that they were lucky to be a part of many special moments for people.

“This (jewelry) is such a personal type of a gift,” Flash said. The Huffs always tried to give customers their personal attention and to maintain privacy.

“Husbands and wives wouldn’t know what each other is doing for Christmas, and we’ve had instances where both of them came in here… they would almost meet each other, within minutes,” Flash shared. “We’d look at each other and kind of roll our eyes, ‘Oh, my land, that was close!’”

Tending to their customers’ special moments came with sacrifices. Flash said that for many years, they had put their business and customers first and missed some special moments in their own lives.

“We have some grandkids. We’ve missed out on some things that we’d like to enjoy now,” Flash said.

Now they have just one last holiday sale to get through before things wind down for the Huffs to relax and enjoy their own holidays.

When asked about his plan after retirement, Flash joked: “Probably would like to take a nice nap.”

The Huffs said that they want to spend more time with their grandchildren and maybe travel a little. But they do not plan on leaving Fredericktown any time soon.

“We’re going to stick around here for the most part.” Sheila added. “My mom is still here. Both our families are around here.”

This bond with people and Fredericktown will likely continue after Huff’s Fine Jewelry closes its doors.

“We’ve had an awful lot of fun in here. There’s an awful lot of people that have supported us that we will miss greatly,” Flash said. “It’s been a good run.”

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Eli Chung: 740-397-5333 or eli@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @

 

 

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