In 2023, Bremer Jewelry will turn the big 7-0. Ronda Daily and her husband Craig have done much over recent decades to take Ernie and Jane Bremer’s name and their originating business principles to levels the founding couple never dreamed possible back in 1953. Today, Bremer Jewelry manages two spacious, luxurious high-end jewelry stores in Peoria and Bloomington, Illinois.
When Ernie Bremer was 16 he ventured out into the world to look for work. As Ronda tells the story, Ernie walked into Goldstein’s Jewelry (closed now for many years) in downtown Peoria and asked for a job. Mr. Goldstein had one prevailing need in a new employee and asked young Ernie if he could do hand engraving. As in any job interview the answer is always “yes.”
Through perseverance and raw determination Ernie quickly learned the craft of engraving. Turns out these skills were somewhat inherent. “Ended up he was one of the best hand engravers anywhere,” says Ronda.
Years later, Ernie and Jane decided to open a jewelry store in downtown Peoria. “I think they chose downtown as it was a vibrant business area with lots of banks, downtown shops and it is the county seat,” says Ronda. “It was also where Ernie knew lots of his customers.”
Also intrinsic to Ernie’s business acumen was a dedication to quality products and services. Businesses were built in those days by reputation, association and quality goods and services. Ernie helped to establish these characteristics early on.
“They carried Kiger-Keppie diamonds, Seiko watches and a beautiful selection of diamond jewelry, along with a huge inventory of Howard Miller grandfather clocks,” says Ronda. “They had a watchmaker/clockmaker on staff that provided service to the local area. Ernie was an excellent goldsmith and was able to do repairs on all types of jewelry. And, I think their philosophy was to just provide excellent products and services to the Peoria area.”
Such commitments helped grow the Bremer name and reputation in the formative years. Years later, Ronda and Craig would make two significant moves to bigger and better stores in Peoria and eventually opening a second store in Bloomington. With 50 miles between the two stores, the market radius for each store nearly meets in the middle, giving Bremer a strong hold in this part of The Prairie State.
One wouldn’t know it today, but Ronda and Craig didn’t come from jewelry backgrounds. Both entered jewelry retail by marriage. Ronda’s late husband Les Chambers always wanted to own and operate an American Gem Society (AGS) store. After 8 years at the bench at another jewelry store, Les and Ronda made a great decision and purchased Bremer Jewelry in 1984.
Les and Ronda partnered with a watchmaker and his wife, Chuck and Pat. Both wives had full time jobs outside of the jewelry store but worked with their husbands during any time off. In 1989, Ronda decided to work in the store full time to support the business.
“I have always loved jewelry for myself and was intrigued with the idea of helping other people find the ring that promised love and commitment or a beautiful celebration item,” says Ronda.
In 1995, the business venture was hit with tragedy when Les died. Ronda maintained the business partnership in the wake of his passing until 2001 when she bought out the partner and became the sole owner.
Time passed and Ronda met Craig. Hardly a jewelry person, Craig was a data architect for Cisco Systems in California. The couple married in 1997. Over the next 10 years Craig was a remote worker for Cisco. In 2005 when they decided to open their second store in Bloomington, Craig joined Bremer bringing with him an array of tech skills and business acumen.
“Craig had no background in jewelry, but he did have a vested interest and an incredible business mind,” says Ronda. “His addition as a full-time employee was a game changer for me personally and the company. His knowledge of business and computers was amazing. We have elevated POS systems, inventory reporting and website all because of him.”
Overcoming upgrades and changes to tech was the least of the couple’s worries. In the early days operating two stores 50 miles apart was a constant test of strength and will that required Herculean efforts on a good day. But in the couple’s minds the Bloomington market was definitely worth the monumental effort to open a second store.
With popular retail anchor stores nearby (Krispy Kreme Donuts and a Starbucks) the couple got to work on building their 3,200-square-foot store. By September 2005, Bremer’s Bloomington store was open for business.
Ronda and Craig reside at roughly the halfway mark between the two stores. A doable commute to work is a good start. Thanks to the help of fellow retail jewelers they found ways to juggle two stores with more streamlined store transfers, staff needs at each location and event scheduling.
With two markets to serve, Bremer got busy on expanding their key demographic and product line – bridal. The store’s taglines say it all: “Forever starts here” and “Where Illinois gets engaged”. In the 1990s and early 2000s Bremer went deep and wide into bridal.
Hearts On Fire has been the store’s top diamond fashion brand for more than 20 years, along with other great vendor partners. GN Diamond is also a strategic diamond vendor. “GN does an amazing job for us with being able to provide great merchandise at excellent pricing,” says Ronda.
But it’s not all about diamonds and bridal. “I am proud of our inventory staff that continues to work hard to make sure we have fantastic partners that we can continue our growth into the future,” says Ronda. “We have an expansive colored gemstone and pearl inventory in a wide range of pricing.”
Ernie and Jane weren’t family, but Ronda and Craig make the founding couple’s commitment to quality products and services a multigenerational characteristic of Bremer Jewelry. And, family is a relative term in retail jewelry. Customers are treated and welcomed like family.
Ronda and Craig’s daughter Ashley worked with her parents for many years in a marketing and sales capacity, but moved on to create her own family business with her husband. But the couple also has family-like long-term employer-employee relationships with a number of staff.
For now, Ronda and Craig are looking forward to celebrating the store’s 70th anniversary in 2023 with the new owners of Bremer Jewelry. The couple recently sold both stores to long time employee Justin May and his wife Julie. This makes these anniversaries even more exciting.
“Justin has worked side by side with us for over 16 years and has learned our business philosophy on a daily basis,” says Ronda. “I’m sure he and his wife Julie will take Bremer Jewelry to the next level with the same dedication to our guests, our vendor partners and our employees. We won’t quite make the 40 years of owning the business in 2024, but I think we will be able to work for a couple days and be able to say, I did it!”
“Our staff has been and will always be a very important part of this business,” says Ronda. “I would love to believe that this business that started from very humble beginnings with a beautiful couple will continue to grow and flourish forever.”