It’s been 30 years since Dick Jewell joined his family’s business on a full-time basis. But he’s still a relative newcomer in the full context of Mitchell and Jewell’s history.
The Red Deer store came into existence 90 years ago, as A.B. Mitchell Jewellers. Owner Alexander Mitchell welcomed Dick’s father Bob as a partner 60 years ago.
Dick worked in the oilpatch and on road construction for a number of years before declaring the jewelry industry his career choice in 1979. He had, however, already spent considerable time helping out at the store.
“It was a natural progression. It was just a matter of making the decision, I guess.”
Bob stepped away from the business in the mid-1980s. But he still had a lasting influence on how his son operates the store.
“He was a great mentor because he allowed me to fail,” said Dick, recalling how Bob would let him pursue business ideas even when the elder Jewell was skeptical.
More importantly, said Dick, both his father and his mother, Doris, showed him how to interact with others.
“All through my life, it was a matter of, ‘This is how you treat people; this is how you do business.’”
They also impressed upon him the importance of giving back to the community. Bob was a founding member of the Red Deer College board and helped establish the Red Deer International Folk Festival; Doris served on city council and chaired the Red Deer College Arts Centre building committee.
Local residents appreciate such community involvement by business owners, and try to support them in return, said Dick.
“It’s a definite two-way street.”
Another key to Mitchell and Jewell’s longevity has been the role of its female partners, from Mitchell’s wife, Alma, to Doris to Dick’s wife, Marilyn.
“Without the brides involved, you don’t get that success,” he said, describing how his mother brought, and Marilyn continues to bring, critical administrative skills.
“You’ve got the artistic and you’ve got the number-cruncher,” he said, elaborating on his and Bob’s roles versus those of their wives.
“That’s that combination between the right brain and the left brain — you end up with a full brain.”
During his 30 years in the jewelry business, Dick has seen big changes.
Customers now have access to more information and are usually well-informed when they visit a shop.
The Internet has also given them increased opportunities to bypass stores. But Dick believes most still value local retailers who support the community, and the ongoing relationship they have with those businesses.
At Mitchell and Jewell, he noted, third-generation customers are common.
“Maybe they’re living in Sherwood Park now, or maybe they’re living in Calgary now, but they come back to purchase items.”
Dick believes Mitchell and Jewell, which currently employes 13, is the oldest locally-owned retailer in the city. And its roots extend back further than 1919.
When Mitchell immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1909, he went to work at a giftware, eyeglass and jewelry store in Red Deer operated by Harold Snell. After 10 years, he bought the jewelry part of that business.
Bob came to Red Deer from Lethbridge, where he had helped out in a jewelry store while stationed there with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Dick remembers his father’s creativity, and how he enjoyed artwork and even designing houses. He thinks Bob could have provided valuable input into the design of Mitchell and Jewell’s current store at 4910 45th St. — which it relocated to from its longtime premises downtown 15 years ago.
“I always said this place would be twice as good, or twice as operational, if he had been alive.”
Dick doesn’t expect any of his children — who are now all adults — to continue the Jewell business legacy.
“The opportunity was there, but they decided they wanted to go their direction.”
That hasn’t prevented him from contemplating how to celebrate Mitchell and Jewell’s centennial in 10 years, even though he’s not sharing details.
“We’ll work on 95 first.”