EAST LIVERPOOL- For James Locke, there was no question where he wanted to settle in and ply his trade after completing his service during World War II, and for 57 years, the love of his hometown on the river became an anchor for the community.
Now that anchor, James Locke Jewelers on East Fifth Street, is going the way of many small town retailers and will close sometime after Christmas.
The news of the store's closing spread like wildfire through the community, bringing customers into the jewelers this week, not just for bargains but to say goodbye, share a tear and a memory or two.
Customers flocked to James Locke Jewelers in downtown East Liverpool this week after learning the store will close after 57 years of offering personalized service and quality merchandise to the community. (Photo by Jo Ann Bobby-Gilbert)
When James came home from war, he had two job offers in his pocket, according to his wife, Margaret: One from a jeweler in Texas, the other from a jeweler in North Carolina.
He had been doing watch repair prior to entering the service, Margaret said, adding, "I told him, 'Look, Jim, you decide this by yourself.'"
After celebrating Christmas with his folks, James came to her and said, "Look, Marge, I've been away from my family long enough. I want to stay home."
"We've never been sorry," she said Thursday during an interview at their Fifth Street home.
Initially, her husband worked for Morton's on Sixth Street for nine years but, "All that time, he kept saying, 'I want my own store,' and one day he came home and said, 'We're going to start our own store.' We had $200 in pennies and lots of credit from vendors," Margaret said with a smile.
On Oct. 29, 1955, they opened a small store at Sixth and Broadway with no heat, or running water, then in February they moved the business to the current location, renting space from Joseph Holloway.
Margaret mused, "We rented from him for 17 years before we bought the store, and all they ever had between them was a handshake, even when we bought the store."
In July 1973, a fire made it necessary to move, lock, stock and barrel, to a storefront at Walnut and Bradshaw that had no hot water and no air conditioning.
The morning after the fire, the Lockes arrived at their burned-out building to find people lined up, asking what they could do to help.
"We had to go back into business. They wouldn't let us quit," Margaret said.
On Oct. 29, still able to see blue sky through the unfinished roof and with carpet still being installed, the Lockes moved back into their store on Fifth Street.
The couple's sons Jimmy and Keith, "grew up in the store," often shoveling snow or washing windows, and Margaret said, "That was one of the blessings of the store. I didn't have to worry about a babysitter."
James went on to earn the highest title available in this country as a certified gemologist, with Margaret attaining the second-highest title of registered jewelist, maintaining memberships in the American Gem Society and Gem Institute of America, and continuing their education over the years.
In addition to providing the community with a premier downtown retail shop, they showed their commitment to the city in other ways, with James becoming a founding member of the 1st National Community Bank about 25 years ago and when they decided to build a new home downtown at a time when most people were headed to the suburbs.
"We had a beautiful home on Broadview Circle, but Jim wanted back downtown," Margaret said.
After trading lots with the city, the couple began building the first new house built in the city in more than a half century.
In September 2003, the city lost one of its greatest supporters with the death of James Locke, but Margaret along with a dedicated staff has continued on at the downtown jewelers.
Always offering personal service, the business gained a loyal clientele, more like close friends than customers.
Margaret remembered two widows who came in asking what to do with their wedding rings after "friends" advised it was wrong for them to continue wearing them.
"Those are not your friends," Margaret remembered advising the ladies, who walked out with newly-cleaned and sparkling wedding rings back on their fingers.
With changes in the way society shops, more likely to choose malls over downtown shopping, the Locke family recently decided it was time to close the store and began letting people know with a Nov. 9 flier to "preferred customers."
Since then, the store has been crowded, and Margaret has received letters from loyal customers, thanking her for the years of service.
"I feel like my heart had been pulled out and is lying on the sidewalk. I don't feel like I'll ever be the same."