Wicker is a staple in downtown Fort Dodge
People aren’t buying as much gold jewelry as they were in previous decades, according to Marilyn Simonson, owner of Wicker Jewelers. And the rise of online retail companies like Amazon has certainly impacted the number of shoppers at brick and mortar stores.
But Wicker, 700 Central Ave., continues to survive in Fort Dodge’s downtown in part because Simonson has built a loyal customer base.
“I learned from Mr. Wicker that we treat people as we would want to be treated if we came into the store and that’s true with any business,” said Simonson, who first started working at Wicker in 1962. “If they make an attempt to walk in your door, that’s what counts. We aren’t going to get the business we used to anymore.”
The result of that philosophy has been customers who keep coming back.
“We have a lot of loyal customers,” Simonson said.
Simonson bought Wicker from Lew and Lorene Wicker in 1984. Prior to that, she worked for them for over 10 years.
Lew Wicker was a U.S. Army infantryman in World War II, where he battled on the front lines in Italy, according to Messenger records.
He returned to the United States in July of 1946. And in 1948, Lew Wicker got involved in watchmaking after being influenced by his cousin, Ralph Wicker, of Fort Dodge.
By 1950, Lew and Lorene Wicker moved to Fort Dodge and worked for Ralph Wicker at his jewelry store. Ralph Wicker had owned it since 1932.
In 1960, Lew Wicker bought the store from Ralph Wicker.
The Gamble Store fire in June 1960 wiped out the jewelry store and forced the store to move. They were located elsewhere on Central Avenue for about six years before settling into its current location. The building Wicker occupies was built in 1882 and was once a Commercial National Bank.
For a few years in the 1960s, Simonson said she focused on being a stay-at-home mom before returning to work at the store in 1967.
She served as an assistant manager for the Wickers until they retired.
When Simonson took over the store, she didn’t rename it.
“We just kept things the way they are,” Simonson said.
The Wicker couple has since passed way.
Wicker Jewelry is a full-service store that offers an an assortment of jewelry and gifts. It offers on-site jewelry repair and watch repair.
Simonson said the store sells more sterling silver than maybe it once did.
“In the last several years — when the gold prices went high everything kind of changed,” Simonson said. “And other retail businesses like (JC)Penney were not buying as much gold items and buying more sterling because it was more affordable and customers couldn’t afford to buy the gold. We sell a lot of sterling now because they are not as expensive for the customer to purchase.”
Wicker sells engagement rings, wedding bands, watches, religious gifts and colored stone jewelry.
Watch batteries have become more common.
“In terms of watch batteries, we had very few batteries,” Simonson said. “It used to be the wind up, the 17 jewel or 21 jewel, now they have mostly gone to the battery. Customers will bring in watches for batteries or an old one that was grandma’s that needs to be cleaned.”
Simonson, who grew up on a farm in Gilmore City, said watches that need repaired are sent to a repairman in Minnesota.
“There’s no one in the area that does watches,” Simonson said. “We used to have a watch repairman in town, but they have all gone out of business or retired. Not enough money in it.”
According to Simonson, the top sellers have been Seiko clocks and religious gifts.
“We also have musical clocks,” she said. “Those are popular.”
Christmastime remains one of the busiest times of year for Simonson.
“Christmas is the busiest time of year,” Simonson said. “More people are out shopping. Mother’s Day is another good time. And in the spring, for confirmation, we sell jewelry for the boys.”
Diamond pendants and earrings are in favor during Christmastime, according to Simonson.
Simonson said Wicker belongs to Jewelers Retail Organization, which allows them to buy more items than she could as an individual.
She employs two people part-time. And her husband, Gary, does some engraving and bookwork for the store.
Doing business downtown has its ups and downs, but Simonson said, “It’s looking better all the time.”
“It slowed down, but I think it’s coming back,” Simonson said. “People want to shop local and The Messenger has helped with that.”
Simonson believes the Wickers would be surprised to see the stability of the store.
“They were very nice people,” Simonson said. “That’s why everyone got along. They would probably be surprised at what we have done and how we have kept it going. They would be happy.”