Washington Jewelers says goodbye after 54 years

Published 7:19 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2016

After 54 years, Washington Jewelers is closing its doors, and the reason why is simple.

“I’m old,” owner Jimmy Fortescue laughed. “Just time.”

An entrepreneur by nature, Fortescue worked with Weyerhaeuser, served in the U.S. Coast Guard and sold insurance in Belhaven before finally opening the jewelry store in 1962 at age 23.

Washington Jewelers became a staple in the downtown area, and it was a family affair, too. Fortescue said his children and grandchildren have all worked at the store at some point, and his great-grandson sat working in the background as he talked.

Despite their involvement, however, there was no one in the family who wanted to take over the store, according to Fortescue.

For him, the decision to retire is a bittersweet one. He said he would miss his customers and employees, but he’s also looking forward to more time to fish, hunt and tinker with racecars.

“I’ve greatly enjoyed the jewelry business,” Fortescue said. “We’re blessed to be successful.”

In those 54 years, Fortescue said the store, which has remained in the same location, has been profitable every year. He attributes the success to three things: loyal customers, good employees and the Lord.

Harold Robinson, executive director of the Washington Harbor District Alliance, said downtown Washington would miss Washington Jewelers as a business, but it would also miss Fortescue as a friend.

“He will be missed, and his family will be missed,” Robinson said. “Anytime you lose a business, especially in retail, you lose customers that are coming downtown.”

Fortescue said there have already been a couple of people interested in buying the Main Street space, but Robinson said it is still too early to have a buyer locked in.

“It’s hard,” Robinson said of filling vacancies. “It’s getting better, and it’s our job to make it even better.”

Fortescue said he expects to be open through Christmas with the going-out-of-business sale — a gesture designed to thank customers for their loyalty.

He has no worries about the downtown area, though, and said there is no place like Washington.

“Downtown has been wonderful to us,” Fortescue said. “We feel like downtown has a great future.”