Johnson’s Jewelers, a local staple, tries to keep up with downtown Cary changes

twanbaugh@newsobserver.comJune 4, 2014 

— You could say downtown Cary is at the start of a renaissance – at the brink of something shiny and fresh, at the crossroads of old and new.

But on East Chatham Street, a small brick building sits, just as it did a half-century ago, so far unfazed by the changes all around it.

Johnson’s Jewelers has been a staple on Chatham Street since 1950, but the store’s owners say they feel pressure to upgrade the building and make the property more inviting. The family-owned business will undergo major renovations starting this month.

The Cary, a newly renovated theater, is next door, and the town has plans to build an urban park nearby. A boutique hotel is also in the works.

Johnson’s Jewelers, meanwhile, hasn’t changed much over the decades. A store sign is painted directly onto the brick exterior, and faded advertisements are displayed in the barred windows.

Store owner John Capps says it’s time for an upgrade. The outside of the store will get a facelift of sorts to match the modern look of The Cary. A side door will become the main entrance.

Inside, workers will install new floors, and some displays will be rearranged. A little feng shui will help customers move around more easily.

Capps doesn’t mind all the changes that are happening downtown. He said the revitalization, along with Cary’s growing population, have helped bring in more customers.

Johnson’s Jewelers has been catering to local customers since 1936, when it opened in its original location.

Walking past the store on Chatham Street, it’s easy to detect a friendly feeling. Once inside, it’s a family affair, as it has been for three generations.

Noah Capps, John’s father, bought the business from the Johnson family in 1968 after working as a watchmaker in downtown Raleigh. The Capps family never bothered to change the name of the store because it was so well known in Cary.

“Mr. Johnson was in his late 70s and ready to sell,” Capps said.

Initially, Capps wasn’t sure if he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He worked at the shop a bit during high school before leaving for the University of Mount Olive to study business.

He left college two years later and went to California to pursue a degree in gemology. Then he came home in 1978 and worked at the store full time.

“It was pretty neat,” he said. “I learned to love it.”

These days, Capps’ wife, Lynette, sits at the front desk of the store, taking phone calls. She flashes a smile to customers who wander in, while her husband works in the other room.

Their two grown sons, Brandon and Bradley, work in the back of the shop, tinkering with jewelry and making repairs for customers.

Bradley Capps, 29, worked his first day at the store on Monday.

“This is like a trial run to see how he likes everything,” John Capps said.

Small jewelry stores face big competition from large retailers, and the economic downturn posed challenges. The Capps family says the store has stayed afloat by offering service work and repairs.

Customers keep coming back.

“My favorite thing is to look at diamonds and color stones to try to find the perfect one for the customers,” John Capps said.

Lynette Capps said working with family can mean getting on each other’s nerves, but it is also rewarding.

“We can trust each other, rely on each other and help each other out,” she said.

Loyal customers have become part of the family.

“They appreciate that we work here together and always have a good attitude,” Lynette Capps said. “People hug us, talk to us, ask how our children and grandbabies are doing. It’s just a big, happy family.”

Wanbaugh: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @TaylorWanbaugh

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