Question: How do you get anything accomplished when you are surrounded by diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls? We won’t even discuss the gold and sterling silver lying around.
Answer: You get used to it.
“Like diamonds,” Harry Dillabaugh, a local jeweler, said. “Like a five-carat diamond. It doesn’t register to you that there’s not that many of them, and you’re looking at something that’s like $100,000. That’s like the price of a house. You don’t think of the price or the value of that big of a stone. It gets to the point that it’s just another stone.”
It is possible to get work done, of course. Look at Harry and Sheila Dillabaugh, long-time owners of HED Gold-N-Dreams on State Route 92. They’ve had a long career as one of Sierra Vista’s fine jewelers and now, after 55 years, they are closing their doors and retiring. They figure that will happen in January.
“I’m tired,” Harry said.
First thing on their list to do?
“I want to spend some time with the grandkids; they’re in Colorado,” Sheila said. “We’re looking to slow down and take it a little easy.”
As the Dillabaughs get ready to retire, they reflected on their long career as jewelers. The best part, they both agree, is the friends they made and from those friends, family. That has influenced how they do business.
“My first boss used to say this,” Harry said. “The first time you come in you’re a customer. The second time you come in you’re a friend. The third time you come in, you’re family.”
Harry began his jewelry apprenticeship when he was 14, when gold cost $50 an ounce, and he made 75-cents an hour. After high school he studied watch repair and jewelry design at Gem City College in Quincy, Ill. Upon completion, he had several offers to teach, but was ready to get out on his own. The couple began business in a small town, Morrisonville, Ill., a farming and coal mining town of about 1,200, according to Sheila. They were 23 and 22 years old and not afraid of the future.
“We were so young we thought we knew it all,” Sheila said. “I worked for the banker in this little town, and we wanted to borrow $3,000 to start our first store and that was buying the building, too. He said, ‘No, because in six months you kids will be broke and I’ll never get my $3,000 back.”
“When we first started the store, we bought a pickup truck, a brand new one and we ordered it,” Harry added. “We borrowed $2,700 for it and didn’t know how we were going to pay for it. Five years later I sold it for $5,000.”
They borrowed the money for the business from Harry’s dad.
Their first store had only two showcases, which they thought was a massive amount of inventory. Sheila was disappointed when Christmas came around and the cases weren’t completely empty.
“We went through our first Christmas, I had never done retail, I knew nothing,” Sheila said. “Harry was ecstatic about the Christmas we had. We had two little showcases, and I was standing there Christmas Eve when we closed, and he said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘We didn’t sell it all.’ He started laughing. I was very naïve.”
The business grew, and the pair opened more stores. Finally, in 1989, Harry’s doctor advised Harry that for his health he needed to live in a dry, hot climate, so in 1990 they moved to Sierra Vista and opened their store. They moved to their current location on S.R. 92 a month before the Mall at Sierra Vista opened in the late 1990s.
In the time Harry has been a jeweler he has had some interesting commissions, including charms in the shape of an astronaut that went into space and were bound for the Space Shuttle. He also had a request for a small charm in the shape of a woman’s chest. That little item was meant for someone who judged certain t-shirt contests.
A near miss was in 1987, when he was commissioned to make a diamond ring in the shape of a piano, meant for Liberace. That piece was estimated at about $20,000, but it never got completed because the entertainer died.
Despite those strange requests, both Harry and Sheila have enjoyed their many years in the business. Still, there are some things they will miss.
“The thing that I’m going to miss a lot is our customers,” Sheila said. “We have made so many close friends.”
Harry is equally grateful.
“Thank you,” he said. “It’s been a good time.”