Volume 20, Number 45 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | March 23 - 29, 2011
BY Janel Bladow
While we may still be in the midst of March madness, at least we’re coming out of the green haze of St. Patrick’s Day with little more than a hangover.
Losing a gem… It’s the end of an era with the retirement of long-time neighborhood jeweler Jon Valentino. The affable gemsmith has been a fixture on Fulton Street for nearly three decades at Seaport Jewelry Exchange.
“It’s time. You just know when it’s time,” Valentino told Seaport Report. “At my age, 65 years old, it’s time to do other things. I’ve been at the same location for nearly 30 years. It’s just time.”
Valentino doesn’t plan to retire to an easy chair. “I have hobbies. I like to restore old cars. I’ve been doing it for years so now I’ll be able to do it all the time.”
Right now he’s working on a red 1960 Thunderbird with a black leather interior and a 1973 British racing green Triumph Stag with a tan interior.
“I’ve been restoring cars ever since I was a kid,” said Valentino. “My father was an auto mechanic and I always enjoyed working on cars with him. While people say there are so many changes with cars these days and they’ve become more complicated, it’s actually easier with computers to find and fix what’s wrong.”
His favorite past fix-ups include a 1965 GTO, a 1967 Oldsmobile 442 and a 1951 Ford.
“I keep them a while, drive them, then sell so I can buy more.”
A friend asked him to come into the jewelry business with him 27 years ago when they opened Seaport Jewelry Exchange. The Staten Island native thought it was a good idea and worked weekends at the store until 1991 when he retired from the telephone company (in those days there was only one!)
“We came to the Seaport because we liked its potential,” explained Valentino. “Fulton Street is nice and wide, lots of businesses around. And with the Seaport you have tourists as well as the local business people. And Little Italy is nearby.”
When his partner retired to Florida, Valentino took on another partner, a wholesaler and his good friend, Bedo Tek. Together they manned the counter, charmed customers and always had a smile. When Tek passed away, he brought in Tek’s widow Germaine. They’ve been a team since, not just in the jewelry biz but also on solving crossword puzzles between serving customers. Germaine said when Jon goes, she’s leaving too. “It just wouldn’t be the same,” she told SR.
“Over the years so many businesses have come and gone,” Valentino continued. “Prudential Bache, AIG, so many big ones. But the customers come back. If they feel you’ve done the right by them, they are loyal to you. Basically, that’s how we’ve stayed in business all this time.”
Not that there haven’t been lean years. Valentino said after 9-11, business dropped and now with the economy in a major slump, it’s a rough road. “As long as we can pay the rent, overhead and electric, we’re doing fine. The customers make it rewarding.”
Celebrities drop in but Valentino doesn’t like to drop names. But he did say that Pat Cooper, a friend of a friend, has shopped the store. “But all our customers are special.”
Over the years, some of those special customers have come in with crazy requests. “One guy wanted a ring made for his wife — four caret, bubble gum pink sapphire surrounded by diamonds. It had to be bubble gum pink!”
And now because of the Royal wedding in April of Prince William and Kate Middleton, he’s getting requests again for the Princess Diana blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Valentino said. “It’s been a good, long run. It’s just time to do something else.”
He has a couple of buyers interested in the store and said he’d “like to keep the tradition going.”
But if he doesn’t sell, he plans to hold one huge, blowout, retirement sale. He hasn’t set a specific retirement date yet and expects to be around for another two, three months. Drop by and say hi. He and Germaine will be happy to see you.
Party On… Who says the party is over? Not for those who eat at SUteiShi (Front Street and Peck Slip) this month. During March, diners can get the customer-created winning roll for half price. Charlie of Brooklyn won the recent Roll Contest with his tasty combo of spicy sea scallop, bacon and jalapenos with tobiko on top. Tell Renee that SR sent ya!
New Dog In Hood… Markie Myers and David Ritcher have a new boy – 3-month old Ellis, another little devilish Basenji. Markie tells SR he “already knows how to sit! For a treat of course. He’s the same breed as Omar only black and white with an extra curly tail. He’ll be fully vaccinated and ready to take the doggy throne of the Seaport in mid-April. Until then, he’ll be frolicking and chewing at home! He’s a delight but a terror.” Our best to you and your new boy! So cute!