Dunbar Jewelers shares pandemic lessons

Mar 4, 2021
Written by wpengine

Yakima’s Dunbar Jewelers is a study in faith and perseverance when it comes to the company’s journey through the coronavirus pandemic.

State government protocols required the store to close for six weeks when infections began to spread across the state about a year ago.

“It just turned into a nightmare,” says Matt Gilmore, the fourth-generation jeweler and company owner. “We were going into (financial) reserves we didn’t want to go into.”

Gilmore told his five employees he would continue to pay them and urged them not to apply for unemployment.

By May, the store reopened for just a few hours a day at first. Many of the store’s most loyal customers are older and stayed home for much of the summer to protect against getting infected.

Fortunately, Gilmore applied for and received a federal Paycheck Protection Plan loan to keep the store open and the employees paid. He thinks the company’s longevity helped to secure the loan.

By October, Gilmore said he noticed customers had done “a mental shift” and began gaining more courage to come and shop for jewelry.

“I think the grocery stores really trained everybody that you could go out and shop safely,” Gilmore said. With that mental shift, customers started returning to Dunbar’s in greater numbers.

Still, the pandemic has required adjustments such as installing sneeze guards, regular sanitizing and requiring masks to shop. Gilmore said it also forced him to order jewelry that’s most likely to sell.

Customers who couldn’t travel eventually returned to buy jewelry instead of spending money on a vacation.

“Our customers really like to come in and touch what they buy,” he said. “The holiday season turned out better than last year.”

The store’s longevity has played an important role in surviving the pandemic. The business, its familiar name and its antique street clock outside the entry are iconic in the region.

“That trust and reputation are huge in the jewelry business,” Gilmore said.

Yet even with the family’s generations of experience, Gilmore has learned lessons negotiating the challenges of the pandemic.

“You’ve got to have a reserve just in case something like this happens,” he said. “Going month to month won’t work.”

Despite serving customers for so long, Gilmore said the pandemic also was a reminder of how loyal customers who keep coming back despite possible threats to their health made the hard work and anxiety worth the trouble.

While not taking his customers for granted, Gilmore said: “We’re more appreciative than we were before.”