When Fischer Evans Jewelers opened at the corner of Market and Eighth streets in downtown Chattanooga, Ulysses S. Grant was president, Jesse James was robbing banks and the transcontinental railroad had been spiked into service just six months earlier.
Owner Clarke Glover says he's awed "basically every day" by the history within the walls of the 150-year-old business, the oldest independently owned retail business in Chattanooga.
"A lot of the earlier stories have been lost over the years," he says. "However, we have some images [of the store] from around 1906 that show grids of wires and carriages pulled by horses down Market Street, which is quite amazing."
Glover can recount milestones from the store's broader history and his own family's association, which goes back 50 years. The Glovers are one of only four families to have owned and operated the store, providing thousands of watches, rings and other heirloom pieces to countless customers over a century and a half.
PAST TO PRESENT
The scars of the Civil War were still healing when German immigrant William F. Fischer and his younger brother, Lewis L. Fischer, born in New York City, established the store in November 1869 as W.F. Fischer & Bro. After the brothers' deaths (William in 1909 and Lewis in 1931), T.H. McClure, a store manager, bought the business from the Fischer estate.
To ride out the Great Depression, McClure scaled down the store, using only a section closer to Broad Street. After McClure died, his daughter and nephew operated the business until 1956, when Carter Evans bought it and changed the name to Fischer Evans in 1963.
Clarke's parents, Howard and Becky Glover, bought the store in 1970. They left the name intact, but expanded its size and scope to include diamonds, fine jewelry and watches on the first floor, and gifts, fine china and a bridal registry upstairs. Clarke credits the "diverse selection of fine goods, knowledgeable staff and impeccable service" with keeping the store relevant.
He and his wife, Nicole Lampru Glover, took over ownership in 2016 as his father edged into retirement. They have 10 employees, three of whom have been with the store for more than 30 years.
Clarke's mother is still among the part-time employees. "She's always had an important role to play here," he says.
Clarke and Nicole are both third-generation jewelers, so legacy has been a guiding force in their careers.
Clarke says he "grew up in the business and learned many aspects of it early on."
He became a gemologist through the Gemological Institute of America in his early 20s, working at the store under his father's leadership at the time. He would later leave Chattanooga to pursue a career in investment management, but says he felt he was always part of Fischer Evans. About four years ago, he decided to officially take over and bring his business experience to the management of the store.
"Combining a background in investment research, along with my gemology background, has served as a platform to find better and more competitive sources, services and techniques to offer in town," he says. "I always knew that whatever path I chose, Fischer Evans was always going to be part of my life."
Likewise, Nicole's parents and grandparents were involved in the jewelry industry, and she entered the profession more than a decade ago, mostly in the wholesale and marketing side, she says.
"In fact, Clarke and I met at a jewelry trade show, as I was representing an Italian brand and he had just moved to Chattanooga from the Boston area," she recounts.
"We have both kind of grown up with the jewelry business in our veins and complement each other with our different industry backgrounds. We are a good team."
A native of Venezuela, she moved from Miami to Chattanooga after meeting Clarke. They married in April 2018 and spend their working hours together. Also along for the commute each day is Roxie, a golden retriever that serves as the store's goodwill ambassador.
"She's our best salesperson," Clarke says.
TRENDS AND TRADITIONS
The Glovers say their business model is an interesting mix of traditional practices and modern approaches.
"Fischer Evans started as a watch-oriented company where watches and jewelry were the focus," Clarke says, and the store became known "for bringing the best of the world to Chattanooga."
Eventually, after several renovations within the building, other products and services that "aligned with Fischer Evans' reputation" were added.
"The gifts and bridal registry department followed, then stationery, and for some time we even had an apparel section," he says. "Nowadays, diamonds and jewelry are the core of our business, although the fine china, gifts and bridal registry continue to successfully operate."
Nicole says they take pride in offering merchandise at "virtually every price point." The brands they carry — such as Deakin & Francis, Fope, Lisa Nik, Nanis, Roberto Coin and Sethi Couture — are exclusive to their store in Chattanooga.
Clarke, who was gone from Chattanooga almost 20 years, says he was surprised by the city's "increased youth and vitality" when he returned.
"You can see that a lot of the past remains — there's still a lot of stability here," he explains. "But a lot of downtown has reinvented itself."
Fischer Evans has multigenerational customers who shop there because their grandparents did, but the influx of new residents — those who've moved here for adventure sports or startup opportunities or retirement perks — are potential new clients they hope to reach.
"They may have moved into town and don't have a local jeweler," Nicole says. "We want to have a fresh vision for the future."
Part of their modern approach is evident in the fashion-forward selection of rings, necklaces, bracelets and watches displayed in the array of glass cases around the room. The Glovers also have started carrying lab-grown diamonds, a fairly new player in the world of precious stones. The synthetic process has created some controversy in the jewelry world, but the gems are chemically and optically identical to mined diamonds.
"It's just an alternative to the natural market," Nicole says.
The Glovers also offer computer-assisted design for special requests and other custom pieces. CAD technology produces the design on a computer and prints a model on a 3-D printer. Then gemstones are sourced to create the piece.
It's a fun new frontier for Fischer Evans, and Clarke says he particularly likes the customer interaction in custom-creating pieces.
Still, the past plays out regularly inside the store.
"We get emails and calls about Fischer Brothers pocket watches from the early 1900s at least once a month — some of them found and some inherited," Clarke says.
"It's inevitable to be in awe of such an iconic business that has remained relevant for way over a century and continues to be part of Chattanooga's history and ongoing growth," he says.
The Glovers say their future focus is to incentivize a "shop local" approach that employs their business, finance, marketing and gemology backgrounds, experience that will continue to make Fischer Evans a destination store.
"As a family-owned store, we manage things differently than national chains or mall shops," Clarke says. "Our services are highly personalized, keeping our customers' best interests at heart."
They hand-select their diamonds, gemstones and jewelry pieces, often with specific customers in mind.
"We have served many families for multiple generations and continue to foster those relationships inside the store and as part of the community," Clarke says.
The Glovers are just as eager to share their expertise with new customers, whether they're looking for a significant piece or a splurge.
They say most customers become friends. "We love to make people feel at home and taken care of," Clarke says.
Probably the most notable change as the business marks its sesquicentennial is a multiphase renovation of the store. They've started inside, removing dated red wallpaper and swapping heavy chandeliers for modern "halo-style" lighting.
They'll get to the exterior eventually, though Clarke says he doesn't know how much will change of that landmark facade.
"The signage will stay the same," he predicts, "but maybe we'll knock off the paint to expose the [original] red brick."
As with any brick-and-mortar store, online sales continue to be a concern. The store does have an online presence, but Nicole says the high-end products and services they provide are hard to replicate outside the store.
"The touch-and-feel experience is a big deal," she says. "A lot of customers maybe are more price-motivated, thinking they can find a better deal online. That's a bit of a misconception. The customer service experience is very important."
Clarke says coming back into the business showed him the significance a hometown jeweler can have in the lives of customers when they come looking for milestone, heirloom or bespoke pieces to honor an engagement, anniversary or retirement.
"That's something I discovered — how much fun it is to be involved in someone's engagement or other special occasion," he says.
"It is fun," says Nicole. "We get to be involved in all their celebratory moments."