Steadman Jewellers has been a Front Street staple for 110 years but the store’s diamonds still haven’t lost their shine.
Ken and Kirsten Atmekjian have owned Steadman Jewellers for 19 of those years, and they consider themselves the guardians of the store’s rich history.
“I’ve always felt like this store isn’t really our store, it’s the community’s store,” says Kirsten Atmekjian, in an interview with ThoroldToday. “The store has its own presence in the community and we don’t want to take away from that.”
Ken Atmekjian, who is a trained goldsmith, says that his love for jewellery started at a young age.
“When I was growing up once in a while my mom would bring her jewellery box out and it would be stories,” Ken tells ThoroldToday. “This came from so-and-so when I got married, this came when I turned 16. Those stories kind of knit your history.”
Ken’s uncle was a diamond setter and Ken quickly realized he wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“I went to Toronto for gemology at George Brown,” says Ken. “I was apprenticing with my uncle while I’m in school. When I come back to St. Catharines a couple of years later I started my own little workshop. I was doing jewellery repair work for jewellery stores. It was simply trade work.”
Ken and Kirsten met at Kirsten’s grandfather’s jewellery store in St. Catharines where Ken often did repairs.
Another store Ken used to work for was Steadman Jewellers on Front Street in Thorold, which at the time was owned by Roy Steadman.
“This store started out because Roy’s father was a watchmaker,” says Ken. “His original watchmaker bench was in the front window of the store using sunlight to see what he was working on because it was before Hydro.”
Roy took over the jewellery store from his father in 1944, and in the early 2000s the time finally came for him to retire.
“He asked Ken: 'Would you be interested in continuing the store?'” Kirsten says. “Ken said: ‘Of course, I’d be honoured.’”
“I was always behind the curtain doing all of the work,” adds Ken. “It was a big leap from not speaking to the retail customer. It was quite the decision.”
When he took over the store, Ken moved his repair shop into Steadman Jewellers.
“There aren’t many stores like us anymore because we’re a full-service store,” says Ken. “To find a jewellery store that actually does stone setting, casting, watch and clock repairs, polishing, that’s rare.”
Ken says the secret to Steadman Jewellers success is the personal customer service.
“It’s a science,” says Ken. “It’s not just the sciences of metallurgical or bench work. It’s the psychology of understanding your customer: where they’re coming from and why their request is the way it is.”
Ken and Kirsten say there can be many different reasons people walk into a jewellery store. Customers might want to commemorate a loved one that has passed on, or they might be celebrating an engagement.
“It’s extremes,” says Kirsten. “You have to be open-minded for that.”
“I’ve always tried to do my best to achieve what that customer is hoping for,” Ken adds. “We bend over backwards to make things work, time wise or service wise. We’ll search it out, we’ll do anything you can do to make our customers happy. That’s a recipe that has worked for us and that’s why we’re still here.”
The Atmekjians point out that store has survived multiple recessions, The Great Depression, and most recently the pandemic.
“We have such loyal customers,” says Ken. “When we were closed for the pandemic people were so worried about us surviving through it that they would call and leave orders for stuff that they didn’t need but it was out of kindness. It touches your heart when that kind of thing happens.”
“The community has been extremely supportive,” Kirsten adds. “When we first came in the community really supported us and made us feel welcome. It feels like home. You know everybody, we’re lucky to be in this community.”
So what do the next 110 years have in store for Steadman Jewellers?
“It would be nice if the store was kept going and servicing the community the way it has for the past 110 years,” says Ken. “Hopefully my son sticks with it too and we’ll continue that on."