MARYSVILLE — There was a time in the 1980s when Wagner Jewelers was just about the only game in this town.
Everett was home to a score of jewelry purveyors, independents stores and retail chains.
Marysville not so much.
That is, until Doug Wagner, who was managing a jewelry store in Mount Vernon, called his little brother, Jeff Wagner, and told him, “There’s this little town called Marysville, and I think they need a jeweler,” recalled Jeff, now 64.
Jeff Wagner was working at a Fred Meyer department store in Portland and was enjoying “big city life” when his brother rang.
But big brother Doug, now 74, convinced him to drive up and take a look.
The consensus? There wasn’t a whole lot to see.
In 1981, Marysville was a quiet little town with a population of about 5,500. By 2020, the city’s population topped the charts at more than 71,000.
“They were just building the Kmart, and they were just adding this strip mall,” Jeff Wagner said. “On State Street, there was a McDonald’s and that was all that was there.”
But they decided to give it a go.
A $50,000 Small Business Administration loan with an interest rate of 21.75% and a $50, 000 loan from their dad gave them their start in 1981.
Interest rates were high in those days and jobs were scarce, Jeff Wagner said. “I remember Hallmark advertised for a clerk for $5 an hour, and the line stretched along the mall sidewalk,” he said.
Those were the days!
The brothers opened a tiny shop in the Kmart strip mall, around the corner from their current store at 9611 State Ave., which is a former Taco Time restaurant they moved to in 1998.
“We worked on a lot of ladies’ jewelry and repaired watches and just kind of built the business and here we are,” Jeff Wagner said.
Today, Wagner Jewelers employs a dozen full- and part-time employees. Its glass cases sparkle and wink with diamonds and other precious gems, watches and estate jewelry. Custom-designed rings are a specialty.
In the old days, custom creations were a laborious process that involved carving wax molds. Now customers can configure their own jewelry or ring on a computer screen, and one of Wagner’s on-site goldsmiths can perfect and execute the design, Jeff Wagner said.
Being an independent, family-owned jewelry store allows the Wagners to offer unique items crafted by independent artists that can’t always be found at the big-box stores, Wagner said.
A couple of years before Doug Wagner retired in 2019, Jeff asked his son, Casey Wagner, now 30, if he’d like to come aboard — see if he liked the business, no strings attached. Casey hadn’t spent much time at the store growing up, and his only gemological experience was polishing stones in a rock tumbler his dad brought him when he was a kid.
“I needed a job at the time. I stuck around and got more and more into it,” said Casey Wagner, who’ll celebrate his fifth work anniversary on Oct. 14.
The custom-design aspect of the business is a favorite for Casey Wagner. “It showcases the fact that we’re not just a retail store, but that we offer artistry and craftsmanship.”
“The younger generation likes customization, and having something unique that makes them feel they’re part of the process and not just picking something a million other people might have,” Casey Wagner said.
Jewelry is an ancient craft, an ancient art, and now an international business, he said.
“Stones come from all over the world, the people come from all over the world. It’s really cool to be part of that,” Casey Wagner said.
In 1986 or thereabouts, Dale Wilms, a goldsmith, stopped by the store and asked about a job. Hired on the spot, Wilms has been there ever since — 35 years.
Having goldsmiths at the store — they now employ three — to do repairs, re-size rings and reset gems instead of having to send them out has been a big selling point with customers.
“This is where the magic happens,” Casey said of the store’s back room, where the three goldsmiths work.
After 41 years in business, the Wagners now find themselves helping the children and grandchildren of some of their first customers choose an engagement ring or birthday or anniversary gift.
“We have a little something for everybody, budget-wise and style-wise, from the low end to high end,” Casey Wagner said.
What’s the Wagners’ secret to business longevity?
Being old-school, for one thing.
That means “the customer is always right,” Casey Wagner said. “If a customer comes in and they’re upset, it’s important to deal with them with respect and make everybody happy. A lot of these purchases are for very special events, engagements, anniversaries and birthdays. It’s not just about sales, but building relationships with people.”
The Wagners’ emphasis on building relationships also extends to the artists and designers whose work they feature.
“There is one gentleman in Southern California we’ve worked with for 30 years who’s probably 90 now,” Casey Wagner said. “His whole life is gems. He used to go to the mines and cut them and set them. He has the most beautiful pieces. It’s an honor to be able to showcase his work.”
Jeff Wagner hopes to retire at some point, but these day he enjoys having his son under the same shop roof.
“Working with my son is spectacular,” Jeff said. “Who wouldn’t want to have a business and build it up and then be able to bring your son in, and hopefully pass it on.”
Janice Podsada; email@example.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods