For the Raskin family the best way to keep the generational jewelry retail business going is to first pursue a career in dentistry. That was the case for Lynn Raskin (second generation jeweler) and his son Greg, third generation Raskin jeweler who recently sold his store. The new owners agreed to keep the Raskin name in their Prescott, Arizona store.
Avoiding careers in dentistry are just one of the anecdotes that add color and depth to a family history in jewelry retail that dates back to the 1930s and begins in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. That’s the city where Melvin Raskin (Greg’s grandfather) settled.
Russian by descent, Melvin’s family came through Ellis Island and made their way to Montana. Cattle farming was the family business of choice. In the spirit of more hands make light work, Melvin’s parents had 12 children. Working on a cattle farm in Montana wasn’t easy work – especially during the early 1900s. In the mid-1930s, Melvin and his brother Harry left the family farm.
“They decided to head east and moved to Sioux City, Iowa for a while and ultimately ended up in Oklahoma City,” says Greg Raskin. “The two of them decided they could make money in the jewelry and pawn business and went into the jewelry business in Oklahoma City in approximately 1935.”
For a couple of farm boys from Montana, with no experience in jewelry retail, Melvin and Harry did pretty well for themselves from the start. With the country still suffering from the ravages of the Great Depression years (1929 to 1941) the key was to offer diversified inventory and financing options.
“He carried fine jewelry, luggage, coffee makers, silverware and china,” says Greg. “He was also in the pawn business which was lucrative for him. I have to believe the pawn business in general was good during the Depression. He was one of the first to be a credit-type jeweler. My grandfather would carry the paper and have in-house financing.”
As the country and the world got through the Great Depression and World War II, the family business not only survived but thrived. So much so that Melvin decided to move his family to Phoenix, Arizona. Lynn was five-years-old at the time of the move. As a young boy he performed the usual coming-of-age tasks including bookkeeping, silver polishing, cleaning the floors and emptying ashtrays.
He wanted to pursue a career in dentistry but was pressured by his parents to continue on in the family business. “Looking back, my father told me he did not regret it,” says Greg. “Lynn was honest and very involved in the community. He taught me how to be a leader and to be civic minded.”
Lynn may have been pressured for what to do in life, but not where to do it. In 1953, he graduated from high school and began on his BS in business at the University of Arizona. After graduating he returned to work with his father Melvin in Phoenix. After a few years Melvin and Lynn toured northern Arizona together and decided Prescott was a good community to open a second store.
As retail jewelry evolved in the 1960s, so did retail jewelers. Lynn earned his Graduate Gemology certification from GIA, joined the American Gem Society (AGS) and became a certified appraiser.
In 1963, Melvin provided Lynn with a loan to open a jewelry store in Prescott. The business decision allowed Lynn and his wife to raise four children (Greg was the only child to enter the family business). Six years later Lynn moved the business to downtown Prescott’s main square where the couple’s fine jewelry inventory as well as its trophy and awards business continued their good fortune.
Creative approaches to financing and credit options (similar to Melvin’s store in Oklahoma City and Phoenix) also contributed to growth and increased sales for Lynn and Arlene. And, in 1979, the industrious couple opened a second store in the Ponderosa Plaza Mall.
The family business continued to thrive, as did the community of Prescott with a new Walmart. Lynn wanted to capitalize on the novelty and popularity of the then new mega retail concept in the early 1990s and open a third location near the Walmart. That’s when Greg’s involvement in the business picked up momentum.
Like his father, Greg wanted to become a dentist. That career path, however, didn’t pan out. Greg’s other passion was skiing. But moving to Colorado to be a ski bum and work in a ski shop didn’t meet with his parents’ approval. So, for Greg it was back to retail with a mid-level management job for the Army Airforce Exchange Service – a “glorified Walmart” for the military. The idea of travel intrigued Greg so he pursued this job until 1991 when his father opened a third store.
Greg ran the Frontier Village store for 10 years. In 2003, ownership was transferred over to Greg and he took the reins of the family business. The next decade proved to be challenging. The housing market crash of 2008 forced Greg to close a store location. Greg also had some health issues and decided it was best to go down to a single store and called the family’s original downtown Prescott store home. Greg joined a FOCUS group with Don Grieg. The decision “transformed” the way Greg ran his store.
Similar to most jewelers Greg hired trusted staff, some of which became indispensable additions to the store, pivotal for success and essential for growth. For Greg those people were Cheryl Carson and Leroy Zander. Two years ago Cheryl gave Greg a one-year notice. She wanted to leave Arizona and move to Oregon.
The idea of training a new store manager to the level of Cheryl’s efficiency and proficiency seemed an overwhelming task for Greg. Through chance and circumstance Greg was able to meet up with Jim Carlisto who has a history managing a jewelry supply company.
Jim learned that Greg was planning on holding a going out of business sale and shuttering the family business. Wanting to go into some sort of business with his son, Jim contacted Greg, got discussions started and brokered a deal to buy the store. Greg retired in January and Jim agreed to keep the Raskin name. With Jim and his son taking over Raskin’s, that gives Greg some comfort that the family tradition that started in 1935 continues.