Calls from a doctor rarely offer good news. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. John Tan, (known affectionately in his Louisville, Kentucky market as Little John) the owner of Little John’s Derby Jewelry, Inc. received a call from his physician to inform him that he’s “famous.”
The excited doctor told Little John by phone last October that he, his gold buying commercials and his store were mentioned by name several times in a critically acclaimed murder mystery novel based in Old Louisville.
Louisville-based author David Dominé is known for writing several books that pay homage to what is known as Old Louisville, an area of the city associated with a rich history, wealth, Victorian mansions and local intrigue. Little John’s jewelry store is located in Old Louisville.
Little John and his wife opened their jewelry store in 2004. When gold reached record highs after the housing market crash in 2009, Little John and his wife Melissa decided to create a campaign of campy and irreverent TV ads. These commercials used a variety of costumed characters (from Santa’s elves to flying super heroes) to promote their store’s “don’t mail it [gold] in, bring it in and get your cash today” ads.
Ads from the campaign were an instant and huge success. The viral characteristics of the TV commercials (Little John is the store’s spokesman) quickly catapulted him to face-recognizing success everywhere he went in town. It is these ads that are mentioned in chapter one, page one of David Dominé’s A Dark Room in Glitter Ball City, a murder mystery based in Old Louisville.
“On the first page of the book the author mentions our gold buying commercials on the TV,” says Little John. “As it’s written in the book, during the airing of our commercial, our TV ad is cut as the fictitious local event quickly goes to breaking news about a horrific murder in Old Louisville. That’s the first of eight mentions of our store in David’s book.”
A Dark Room in Glitter Ball City was published in early October last year. The 360-page book may not be a breakaway best seller, but David has a loyal following given his encyclopedic knowledge of Old Louisville.
The New York Times gave David’s book rave reviews. Peer reviews on book-buying websites such as Amazon, Books-A-Million, Simon & Schuster and others gave glowing reviews as well. Literary critics of many walks liken David’s books, especially A Dark Room in Glitter Ball City, to John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (published in 1994).
Critics call David’s A Dark Room an “updated version” of the tome that nearly earned Berendt a Pulitzer Prize (it was a finalist for General Nonfiction in 1995). Each has similar plots of murder, intrigue, who-done-it as well as an impeccable and detailed history of well-known cities in the South. David writes about Old Louisville while Berendt’s Midnight uses Savannah, Georgia, as the story’s backdrop.
Three months after Little John received news of his store’s mention in David’s book, David sent Little John an autographed copy of A Dark Room along with a detailed letter letting Little John know about the mentions of his store in the real-crime novel.
Years prior to penning A Dark Room, David was writing for Kentucky Monthly magazine. During that phase of his writing career David and some friends visited Little John’s store. In David’s letter to Little John (dated March 22, 2022) he referenced the store visit thanking Little John for being “gracious,” and sharing “fascinating” details about his jewelry business and that it made an “impression” on the writer.
Fast-forward to the timeframe David was writing A Dark Room and Little John’s store received eight mentions in the 360-page book. “These mentions don’t move David’s story line in any way,” says Little John. “We’re just mentioned in fairly neutral ways as places in Old Louisville. Still, I’m honored and flattered that David included us in his most recent book. You can’t buy that kind of press.”
After reading David’s A Dark Room, Little John emerges as an Old Louisville icon. His jewelry store is mentioned alongside other iconic names including bourbon maker Pappy Van Winkle, Kern’s Kitchen (known for their famous Derby Pies), and Omega National Products (the biggest producer of glitter disco balls in the world – hence the title of David’s book).
Ever the consummate and humble jeweler, Little John doesn’t let his local media celebrity status and newfound literary fame go to his head. Similar to any jewelry store owner, Little John is leveraging the recognition to grow and expand his business.
For starters, Little John and his wife Melissa let customers know via social media of the store mentions in David’s book. Little John has brought in some hard cover editions in his store for sale but is waiting on the soft cover release.
“When the soft covers come out I’ll purchase a good number of them for sale in the store, gift-with-purchases or perhaps as gifts for our top customers,” says Little John. “We’re still working out the details.”
Since the release of A Dark Room, Little John can link sales directly to the book. As if recognition from the book wasn’t enough, Home Box Office (HBO) is doing a docuseries on David’s book. At press time, HBO producers have met with Little John twice to discuss the particulars of this docuseries. Additionally, HBO is considering making a movie of David’s book as an extension of their docuseries on A Dark Room, says Little John.
This added notoriety may be enough to establish Little John’s jewelry store as an official tourist destination in Old Louisville. That would put his store on the same retail lineup as Papa John’s Stadium, notable hotels, famous racetracks and well-known businesses in the area.
This would be a huge boon for Little John and Melissa as the couple is moving more toward brand-name jewelry. They’re also seeking to leverage the business growth from their local celebrity status to build a stand-alone store in Old Louisville. Expanding to additional store locations is also under consideration.
For now, Little John and his wife are simply enjoying the adulation and kudos that come with their hard-earned recognition in Old Louisville. “To be part of something like this is truly priceless,” says Little John.