Independent Jewellers

Sept 2018

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BY MARK HALSALL Independent Jewellers, a family-owned business with long ties to one of Winnipeg's oldest neighbourhoods, is staying true to its roots. Following its recent 80th anniversary, the company tore down its old store located at Notre Dame Avenue and Isabel Street and built a brand-new one at the same spot. A grand opening celebration is slated for Sept. 10 to 15. Jeremy Epp, who co-owns Independent Jewellers along with his brother Jonathan, says there were discussions about moving the business somewhere else. But in the end, the brothers decided to stay put. "We've been on this corner now for over 75 years," Jeremy says. "It's been our area for a long time [and] we want to continue to support this community." Independent Jewellers was founded by John Epp, who settled in southern Manitoba with his Russian immigrant family in the late 1920s. When the Great Depression hit, John moved to Winnipeg and found a job at a Piggly Wiggly warehouse. In 1936, John married another Russian immigrant, Helen Regehr, and began looking for financial opportunities to supplement his modest wage. After a relative loaned him some money, John purchased some shavers from a local wholesaler and started selling them door-to-door in Winnipeg's North End. Thanks to his friendly, outgoing personality, John was able to make quick work of his inventory and over the next few years he expanded his offerings to include watches, silverware and jewelry. He launched his own company (which was originally called Independent Credit Jewellers because he sold his wares on credit), and by 1937 business had grown so much that John was able quit his job at Piggly Wiggly and open his own store at 593 Notre Dame Ave. After a fire at that store in the early 1940s, John moved his growing business a few blocks east to its current location. John, who originally shared the building with a restaurant, a barber shop and an appliance store, eventually bought the building and undertook extensive renovations that resulted in the creation of a 2,500 square foot showroom in 1959. The official unveiling of Independent Jewellers' brand-new showroom attracted a large crowd including Winnipeg's mayor at the time, Stephen Juba, who presided over the ceremonies. The 1960s and '70s saw the children of John and Helen Epp become more involved in the business, and in 1979, their sons John and Ernest and son-in-law Alfred Schellenberg formally took over Independent Jewellers. The company continued to expand over the next two decades, eventually growing to four retail outlets in Winnipeg. Independent Jewellers also solidified its strong reputation as a full-service jewelry business, and it continues this tradition today by having a watchmaker, a goldsmith, a gemologist and an insurance specialist on staff. In 1998, Ernest Epp bought out his partners and assumed sole ownership of Independent Jewellers. His vision for the business was to establish more of a mid to upper price range niche, which included many high-profile brands of jewelry and watches. A Rolex seller since 1981, the company expanded its product lines to include many other high-profile brands like IWC Schaffhausen, Forevermark, Mikimoto, Omega, TAG Heuer, John Hardy and Gucci. Ernest's sons, Jeremy and Jonathan, were eventually brought into the fold. The brothers, both graduates from the University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business, spent a few years learning all the ins and outs of the jewelry business from their father before taking over the company in 2013. Jeremy says his dad Ernest has always had a keen interest in gemstones and was one of the first people in Canada to receive a graduate gemologist designation. "I would say that's his passion, finding beautiful things," says Jeremy. "He still loves to go to trade shows and find new suppliers and meet new people and see what's happening in the industry." Jeremy has fond memories of his grandfather John, who passed away 12 years ago. "He was a kind man with a good heart," he says, adding that his grandfather caught a serious travel bug after retiring from the jewelry business. "He started traveling and it was one expedition after the next," Jeremy says. "He just wanted to see the world." Throughout the years, Independent Jewellers has built up a broad base of loyal customers, many of whom no longer reside in Winnipeg. Jeremy says with the advent of new technologies and social media, it's easier than ever for his company retain these ties. The loyalty that exists between Independent Jewellers and its customers also holds true for the company's staff, some of whom have been working there for 45 years. "There's a fellow who's been here so long his mustache is older than I am," Jeremy laughs. "We've got really wonderful people here; it's the thing that makes this work." ❚ Independent Jewellers remains true to its roots For advertising information, call: 204-697-7389

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