If she’s not running the store at Nancy & Co. Fine Jewelers in Northport or Demopolis, Nancy Dawkins might be busy at the helm of the Alabama Jewelers Association - or rescuing a dog for Canine Compassion Fund - or deliberating on the Planning and Zoning Commission - or teaching a class in cake decorating.
The woman stays busy.
Nancy started in the jewelry business after high school in 1982. “I thought I wanted to be an interior decorator, but just after I started college a jewelry store in Tuscaloosa offered me a job. I quit college when I decided to go into the jewelry business. My parents said, ‘OK, try it one year.’ I did, and never went back. I’ve been doing this 37 years!”
Nancy worked for two jewelry stores before launching her own business. She and a partner ran a store called The Goldsmith, Inc. from 1990 until 2002, when she bought her partner out. Nancy & Co. Fine Jewelers was born.
“I changed the name of the store,” Nancy says. “I thought The Goldsmith, Inc. sounded dated, like we were a repair shop only. Nancy & Co. Fine Jewelers sounded more professional. I decided to use only my first name because I realized most of my customers knew me as Nancy at The Goldsmith and didn’t have a clue as to my last name.”
Nancy & Co. offers a wide array of designers along with custom work. “I do drawings here at the store; I sit down with the customers and work with them, sometimes using a diamond they already have and adding other stones. It’s pretty much a freehand drawing I do, then we send it out to another company for CAD work, and they’ll send that back and we’ll go from there.”
The Northport store is Nancy’s alone, but at the Demopolis store an hour south she partners with jeweler Ivy Lowe. “I’d gotten to be friends with her in the 1990s through the Alabama Jewelers Association,” she says. “She came from an old family jewelry business called Lowe’s Jewelry in Demopolis; the store had been around since the 1940s. She ended up closing Lowe’s, and last year we partnered up.
“Our Demopolis store is smaller with 1,500 square feet, but it’s located in a building that was built in 1892 with lots of character, such as original exposed brick inside the store and an old fire suppression system with pipes running along the wall - because a hotel was above the store in the early 1900s. It’s a small place, but has lots of character.”
The Northport store is bigger, with 2,000 square feet downstairs and another 2,000 upstairs. Nancy uses the downstairs portion for a special-event space. “I teach painting and craft classes, and also cake decorating,” she says. All of the money from the classes goes to an organization called Canine Compassion Fund, where she’s a member of the Board.
“It’s a dog rescue, and right now we’re raising money to build a facility called Well Worn Paws, specifically for senior dogs that are surrendered or whose owners die. The local animal shelter puts so many senior dogs down. It’s amazing how many people don’t want to deal with an older dog.” Donations are always welcome, she adds, through www.caninecompassionfund.org.
“We saved over 500 dogs this year so far,” says Nancy, who has four dogs of her own - Jewels, Diamond, Ruby Sue and Addy Pearl, along with two cats, Oliver and Ally. All six are rescues.
Nancy also sits on the Northport Planning and Zoning Commission, along with serving as Executive Director of the Alabama Jewelers Association for the past two years. “I’ve been active on the Board for 25 years, and I’m a past President of Alabama Jewelers Association. I will be Executive Director as long as they want me to be. I have a passion for the association to thrive and grow.”
At the moment, Nancy is trying to get group insurance through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama for members of the Alabama Jewelers Association. Nancy saw what a difference a group policy can make - her employees at the Northport store were all covered under other plans, and Nancy had her own individual policy. “Nobody besides me needed health insurance, but when we opened the Demopolis store, two of the employees there needed it so we had enough for a group policy. Getting the group policy cut my insurance in half! There are many jewelers that are in the same shape I was in.”
Benefits of the Alabama Jewelers Association to retail jewelers are many. “A few of the benefits are: We offer two conventions a year - Annual Convention in Birmingham and Saltwater Seminar in Orange Beach - low-cost education, discounts on FedEx and design competition.” But the biggest benefit, Nancy says, is meeting other jewelers across the state.
“If you have a question, you call a jeweler friend and say, ‘Hey, this happened in my store; how would you handle it?’ Or ‘Hey, listen to this great thing I’m doing now.’ We’re all like a big family and always eager to help each other. It’s all about building relationships these days. In my 20-plus years, I’ve made lots of friends across the state.”