CRYSTAL LAKE – Nelson’s Jewelry in Crystal Lake is the unlikely product of one of the ugliest forms of metal: shrapnel.
The store, which is celebrating its 50th year in business this year, has had the same front door since Arthur Nelson opened a 300-square-foot shop at 1 Crystal Lake Plaza along Route 14 in 1962.
Nelson’s legs and feet were injured by a mortar explosion during the invasion of Okinawa in World War II. Though he earned a Purple Heart, the master machinist found it was hard for him to stand for long periods of time due to his injuries, Working from a bench was much easier, so he started a jewelry business with his wife, Alice, according to Mid-America Jewelry News.
At first, the Nelsons were in the service business, repairing watches and jewelry. Later, after building up a client base, they started offering jewelry for sale, said Richard Nelson, the store’s goldsmith and service manager and Arthur and Alice Nelson’s son.
“As they got more customers, they put out retail items,” Richard Nelson said. “Over the years, the store kept growing and expanding.”
Every time a neighboring tenant in the Crystal Lake Plaza shopping center left, Nelson’s Jewelry acquired more space. It now has 3,600 square feet and offers a full range of jewelry, from pieces that sell for less than $100 to expensive diamond engagement rings and everything in between.
Richard Nelson and his brother, Bob Nelson, took over the business from their parents in 1992. Arthur Nelson died in January at the age of 86.
“My father always tried to please everyone and he instilled that in all of us,” Richard Nelson said. “That’s what has kept us in business.”
Richard Nelson trained as a goldsmith under his father and, later, Bernie Tortorici.
“I love working on jewelry,” he said. “it’s a passion.”
Customer service is key, said store manager Justin Banaszynski.
“That is what keeps customers coming back,” he said. “Whether they want a watch battery or an engagement ring, we treat all our customers the same.”
Customers who do buy an engagement ring at Nelson’s sometimes take advantage of the store’s very visible sign along Route 14 to announce the engagement.
“Part of what has made our business special is that we’re a family business,” said Sue Nelson, who often leads the store in sales and is married to company president Bob Nelson.
While working with family can sometimes pose problems, it has been a boon for the Nelson family.
“It’s not always easy working with family, but after 32 years together, we’ve been able to make it work,” Richard Nelson said.
The business has made a point of giving back to the local community and the global community.
Locally, the company helps support the Crystal Lake Food Pantry and the annual Community Harvest event. This year customers who donate food get a free watch battery.
Nelson’s Jewelry, through its private gem supplier, has also helped people in South Africa, the source country for many precious metals and stones. Sue Nelson has visited South Africa twice to help SA Gems with projects there. A portion of diamond sales fund the charity work.