Every family has that one person that can fix anything. Such skills keep households humming along nicely. But for Anthony Venier, the fourth generation family member at Venier Jewelers in Dixon, IL, it was his great-grandfather Lorenzo’s mechanical skills and gifted abilities that did much more than that for the Venier family. From a side job of fixing watches to four generations of jewelers, the 75-year (and counting) odyssey all started on October 15, 1945.
The beginning of Venier Jewelers is a familiar post-World War II tale in the gem and jewelry industry, but with some interesting details that add depth and texture to the story. Lorenzo’s full-time job was installing terrazzo floors, a skill he was required to learn at a young age in Northern Italy.
Given his inherent mechanical skills and Old World work ethic, Lorenzo fixed watches for a local jeweler in town as a side gig. What the storeowner didn’t know was that while Lorenzo was repairing watches he was also taking in information on the daily operations of the jewelry store.
“By listening and observing, Lorenzo learned jewelry retail from the watch bench,” says Anthony.
In early October 1945, Anthony’s great uncle Joe returned from the war. Like most GIs that made it home, Joe wanted to return to the life he knew before joining the war – managing a gas station. Joe was welcomed home with more than open arms. Lorenzo approached Joe about going into the jewelry business together.
“Your future is better in jewelry than it is in gas,” Anthony says, recalling his great grandfather’s famous line that has been passed down from older family members.
The luck and good fortune that helped bring Joe back to Dixon in one piece was still with him. With absolutely zero industry experience, Joe joined his father Lorenzo, who learned about jewelry retail by listening and observing while working a part-time watch repair job. What could possibly go wrong?
Joe and Lorenzo played it smart. They started with baby steps by opening a small watch repair space in Campbell’s Drug Store. A few years after they opened, Mr. Campbell passed away. The twosome bought the store, and then went to Chicago to purchase an assortment of jewelry, pearls, watches and various accessories.
In the early years watch repairs were the cornerstone of the family business. Operations grew over time to include other jewelry products and services, additional employees and a solid holding among the 6 other jewelry stores in town.
They became more confident in their business model and quickly earned a reputation for exceptional customer service and quality products. With Lorenzo’s background in watch repairs, he and Joe brought on 12 watch brands in the early years, while expanding product offerings to include costume, gold and diamond bridal jewelry.
In 1965, a prime piece of real estate in Dixon’s downtown business district became available. The old dress shop that was there was demolished and the family built a timeless store that of course has a terrazzo floor. They built a “jewelry retail fortress,” according to Anthony. “Venier Jewelers has been here ever since.” By this time Lorenzo’s son Louie had joined the family business.
Joe and Louie learned the family business over time. Product knowledge and service skills are vital, but Lorenzo’s sons really honed in on the customer service part of the business. “Treat customers the way you want to be treated, stand behind your products and services, and you’ll do just fine,” Anthony says of his great-grandfathers motto.
Italian families are known to be close knit. Louie’s sons Mike and Bob joined the family business early on working during the summer months and part time during the school year. Sales skills in diamonds and other products helped expand the store due to their trusted reputation. They have since expanded into a custom work and repair destination for all things jewelry and timekeeping.
Venier Jewelers has truly become a full-service jewelry store.
These days, Lorenzo’s son Louie (84) comes in on Fridays to repair mechanical watches. Joe (95) is retired. Mike and Bob are 40 plus years into the business and, the once crowded competition of downtown jewelers are down to just two stores. It was time for gen-four to enter the family business to take it to new frontiers.
Anthony made Venier Jewelers officially a fourth-generation operation in 2012 after graduating from Northern Illinois University. Anthony’s mother Marguerite Venier, a business partner for 25 years and counting, took on many back office and front store duties. He has taken after his mother and father to learn so many facets of the family business while expanding their regional market sales through digital marketing and social media.
“We’re very proud of our perfect five-star score on Google reviews,” says Anthony.
Anthony has joined forces with his mom in sharpening his visual merchandising skills and seasonal decorating. Even with retailers having a subdued COVID Christmas, they countered the dreariness with next-level holiday cheer.
“We went all out this year and decorated the six front windows for Christmas with a number of themes,” says Marguerite. “Kind of like a mini Marshall Field’s concept.” The windows included a snowy village, a running train, family history window, beautiful glass ornaments, vintage handmade jewelry trees and of course a large scale nativity scene. The Downtown Chamber of Commerce recognized Venier’s as having the best downtown Christmas windows. And, they have been voted the entire Sauk Valley’s favorite jewelry store for many years in a row.
Venier Jewelers is one of two jewelry stores serving Dixon. But even with its rich history and strong brand equity, such strong market positioning doesn’t make them complacent in the least. Now more than ever Venier has to be all things to all people in the regional jewelry industry. With strong and long term relationships with Chicago-based jewelry maker Levy Creations and California based Allison Kaufman there are virtually zero requests that go unfulfilled and places Venier Jewelers as a true market leader.
Dixon is the hometown to President Ronald Reagan. The former president loved to say, “Dixon is a great place to come home to.” For the Venier family, they couldn’t agree more. “We are so fortunate that Lorenzo chose Dixon as the place to start his new life after a terrazzo job landed him here from Maniago, Italy,” said Anthony. “Dixon is a great place to live, work and play and we are all active in giving back to a community that has been so good to our family for so many years.”
With generation-five coming of age, Venier Jewelers looks forward to continued, long-term success in the jewelry business in downtown Dixon, Illinois.