After three generations of ownership and more than a century of selling and designing jewelry in Baltimore, Morstein’s Jewelers will shut down at the end of the year.
Owner Jules "Sonny" Morstein said he is torn by the decision to retire and close the doors of a business started by his grandfather, William Morstein, in 1898 in East Baltimore.
The shop, now at 1114 Light St. in Federal Hill, where Morstein started working for his father, Jules, a half century ago, is one of the city’s oldest full-service jewelers. Nelson Coleman Jewelers, which had relocated from Baltimore to Towson, traces its family roots in the jewelry business to 1856. And Smyth Jewelers, founded in 1914 by Albert Smyth and which now has showrooms in Timonium, Annapolis and Ellicott City, is celebrating the century mark this year.
"After 116 years, we are closing our store,” Morstein said Tuesday. "Yes, I'm not happy, and yes, I'm upset, but it's the right thing to do. It's just time. I'm going to be 70 and in good health and would like to look for other things to do.
"After 50 years of selling jewelry, it’s time to try something else," Morstein said. "It's been a real tough decision. I love it here. I love the people. The customers are friends. The neighborhood is wonderful.”
For Morstein, it made more sense to shut down rather than try to sell the business.
"An independent jewelry store is not something people walk into; it's complicated," he said.
He first notified longtime customers of his plans last week, running a private sale, then began advertising to the general public on Monday. He says he's offering big discounts on everything in the store with the hope of selling out by the end of the year.
Morstein's has been run by Morstein family members all along. After opening somewhere in East Baltimore just before the turn of the 20th century, the shop moved to the 1000 block of Light St. sometime around 1919, a date based on a customer's discovery of a warranty for a pocket watch showing that year. Morstein’s father worked with his brother, then for a time, each ran their own Light Street jewelry stores.
About 55 years ago, the business moved to its current location. Morstein began working for his father while in college and over the years has been assisted by his wife, Randi. Some of his employees have stuck around nearly as long or even longer than Morstein, including Shirley Wagner, 84, who started working for Morstein’s Uncle Dave at age 14 and still comes in once a week.
Morstein says business has been good, and he’s kept busy doing appraisals and special orders and designing engagement rings.
But retirement has been on his mind.
"It's just a question of being the right time to retire. You see friends around you and they’re not in the best health and are working," he said. "I want to leave when I can get on my bike, play tennis and travel. I don’t want to wait too long."