Jaci Clarke, far right, helps Bristol couple Leigh Montecalvo and Mike Machado pick out jewelry.
If Bob Frye could pinpoint one factor that “sealed the deal” on the closing of Coggeshall Jewelers, it wouldn’t be the economy. “We’d been paying the bills on the business to keep the doors open without a profit being made for a few years,” said Mr. Frye, who has an ownership in the Hope Street jewelry store. “But the biggest tipping point was when they remodeled the downtown streets two years ago.” Mr. Frye’s frustration began to mount. He and his wife, Claire, retired from over 30 years of teaching – each – to help their son-in-law start his own jewelry business nine years ago. “Manny (Canario) was a well-respected jeweler in Barrington,” Mrs. Frye said of her son-in-law. “And we had an opportunity to open our own store.” For the first few years, they were successful. They dealt in antique and estate jewelry, silver, and collections such as Survival Straps, bracelets made out of paratroopers’ parachute cords. A portion of those proceeds benefits organizations that support military members. Like most jewelry stores, they also sold diamond rings, bracelets, and studded earrings. And when Coggeshall Jewelers learned that there would no longer be a token toll for crossing the Mt. Hope Bridge, the owners were quick to react. They took several of those tokens and turned them into pendants. “Those sold really fast,” said Jaci Clarke, the Fryes’ daughter. “We had the Mt. Hope Collection patent.” Still, all their efforts weren’t enough to pull the store through the downtown renovation, Mr. Frye said. “People don’t get it. The money you make over the summer gets you through the winter,” he explained. “And the money you make over Christmas, gets you through ’til the summer. There’s no catch-up in this business. Once you miss a season, it’s gone.” The Hope Street Improvement Project was several years in the making before a shovel ever touched the ground. Town officials, and representatives from the Department of Transportation knew that the project would be an impediment on businesses downtown. In an effort to coordinate the project to best serve the merchants, the DOT solicited their input throughout the process, said Rose Amoros, Chief Public Affairs Office for the DOT. “Field walks were held for members of our project team to talk with merchants affected along the road, and two public workshops were held to gather input on the best schedule,” said Ms. Amoros. “Alterations to that schedule, such as limiting the contractor’s work in the peak summer months, would have lengthened the project by another construction season and increased the overall cost. “At the town’s request, we shut down operations for two weeks so the work didn’t interfere with the Bristol Fourth of July Parade festivities.” But when shoppers have to walk across wooden planks to get into a store, it’s an automatic turn-off, said Mrs. Frye. “When people see construction going on, they just don’t want to be around it, so they turn away,” she said. Many measures were taken throughout the life of the project to lessen the impact, said Ms. Amoros. Weekly notifications of work taking place were emailed and posted on the town’s website, and hard copies were posted at Town Hall, the post office and the library. “We worked at night and on weekends and altered the traffic patterns on Hope Street and Thames Street downtown to take nine months off the schedule,” she said. “This also increased the overall number of parking spaces for downtown businesses during construction.” Coggeshall Jewelers has discounted just about everything in their store, 20 to 75 percent off. The store will likely close its doors just after Valentine’s Day, Mr. Frye said. “And after that, we’re just going to retire,” said Mrs. Frye. “And just enjoy that.”
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