Colonial Jewelers is one of the longest-running businesses in Frederick County, established in 1948.
Patty Hurwitz has been an owner of Colonial Jewelers since 1980. As one of Frederick’s longest-operating women business owners, we sat down with her to learn about her lessons learned over 40 years of running a business.
Joining the Family Business and Legacy
Patty met her husband, Jeff, as an undergraduate at James Madison University. After getting married, they moved back to Frederick, where Jeff’s family-owned and operated Colonial Jewelers.
Jeff was the third generation in his family to inherit the business. His family’s legacy of owning jewelry businesses started even before Colonial Jeweler’s origin in 1948, with a jewelry business in Westminster owned by Jeff’s grandfather.
Patty explains, “Before joining the Colonial Jewelers business, I was a psychiatric social worker, working at Brooklane in Hagerstown. I joined the family business a few years after we moved to Frederick when we started having children. It was nice to have that flexibility to work in the family business and be a mom. At that time, Jeff’s parents were still running the company, and we were all always working together.
“I grew up on a family farm, so I always had a strong understanding of family-owned businesses. My background in social work also helped me. I understand people and how to talk to them -- especially people who have problems or are upset. I use those skills in dealing with staff, customers, or anyone I run into.
“I feel a lot of pride to be a part of a business with so much family history. This year is our 72nd year in business. I love being here in Frederick. Frederick has always supported us. It’s nice to be a part of something that has been around for so long.”
Weathering Downtown Frederick’s Storms
Back in 1980, when Patty first joined the business, downtown Frederick was going through many changes. The thriving storefronts seen today were shuttered-up empty storefronts after many downtown businesses had closed up and moved to the newly opened-up mall.
“We made the conscious decision to stay downtown. We always loved being downtown -- it’s our tradition and history. We wanted to stay as a downtown business,” says Patty.
Colonial Jewelers was able to weather the storm until downtown Frederick started reviving 10 to 15 years later, becoming the vibrant downtown Frederick is known for today.
Balancing Motherhood and Business Leadership: A Family Legacy
Patty shares that Jeff’s mother had a strong influence on the business. The strong female leadership has continued throughout generations with Patty and her daughter Sarah, the current manager of Colonial Jewelers, and future owner.
As a mother, business ownership comes with its unique challenges.
“My husband and I always worked alongside each other. When I had my children, I only worked part-time. Jeff was running the business, and I supported it. I think it’s very hard for women who have family and young children to also be business owners. You only have so many hours in the day.
“Our daughter Sarah has been working full-time here at Colonial Jewelers while raising her two young sons. She started bringing them to work when they were six weeks old, and for the first two years, she brought them in with her every day. We share a very tiny office -- which most mothers and daughters might not be able to do. And for a while, it wasn’t only our office -- it was the nursery with swings set up, baby carriers, and more. That was a fun experience for me as a grandmother!
“I’m proud that Sarah is going to be owning the business by herself someday. She is such a good businesswoman. I’m so proud of everything she is doing as a woman and a business person.”
The Diversity of Women Business Owners In the Jewelry Industry
“Within the jewelry industry, there are a lot of female operators and owners of businesses. Jewelry may be unique in that way. As a whole, the industry is probably still more male-owned and operated. We belong to a peer group of jewelers from all over that country, and it’s probably half and half male/female small business owners. That’s a great thing.
“If I had to guess why the jewelry industry has such a great balance, part of it might be because a lot of jewelry businesses are 2nd and 3rd generation businesses. Jewelry businesses have always been family-oriented and passed down through generations. There’s a trust and ‘family-feeling’ about the entire industry. My father-in-law always said that they started business on a handshake. They’d go to New York and get handed huge diamonds and say, ‘I’ll send you a check.’
“In our family, we have two daughters and a son, but our eldest daughter is the one who wanted to take it over. So it naturally happened like that. Also, jewelry generally is something that appeals to women. So it’s a natural fit that women may want to work in, manage, or own a jewelry store.”
Seeing Downtown Transform With More Female Business Owners
“In the old days, I can’t think of many women-owned businesses downtown. There were husband and wife teams and small family businesses, like music/art stores or office supply stores.
“I love that there are so many more female business owners downtown today. I’ve seen that they are very confident and competent people. They charge ahead and open businesses and have been very successful. I support that 100%.”
When asked if she sees any challenges for women running businesses and what she would say to them:
“I would say the same things as I tell a man: do your homework, know the market, and be confident.
“Because it is still a newer thing for a woman to own a business, you might have to work a little smarter, a little harder. Remember: just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I can’t do this. I can do it just as well -- if not better -- than a man can.”
Three Lessons Learned as a (Female) Business Owner:
1. “Life balance. There is still a life balance that comes with running a family and running a business too. You have to figure out how to negotiate both of those and do both of those simultaneously. I learned a lot of that and have hopefully been able to help Sarah with that some.”
2. “The biggest lesson I’ve ever learned is that the customer comes first. This is especially true for retail businesses like us. If you don’t have happy customers, you can’t have a business. And especially if you’re a downtown business, it’s so important to be involved in the community and give back. We’ve tried to support and give back to community causes.”
3. “Just as equally as important as customers is our staff. It’s so important to treat staff well. We work hard to have a team that gets along and works well together. We try to listen to them, get their feedback, and encourage them to be a part of our business. Sometimes, women understand that better than men and that women have a better sense of how that whole family works together in a business. A happy staff is one of the most important things to have a business that grows.”
Learn more about Colonial Jewelers and visit them here: https://www.colonialjewelers.com/