Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Time to say goodbye to a real jewel of an owner

Downtown Willoughby has undergone myriad changes since my high school days, when everyone I knew hung around Koster’s Sweet Shop, where the conversation continued unabated until the 10 p.m. closing time.
One of the most dramatic changes will be the departure of Tom Nichols from Dav-Ed Jewelers, almost directly across the street from Koster’s.
Tom has been at the store for a mere 66 years, which certifies him as an icon downtown. And since the store opened in 1945, that would take him back to its very beginning. Obviously, he’s not into job-hopping.
The store was opened that year by Tom’s father, also named Tom. The store’s name came from combining Dave Fertil with Ed Wyles, two financial backers. I never met Dave, but Ed was a well-known real estate broker whose claim to fame was his whacky advertising gimmicks.
For example, when I lived in North Willoughby at the outbreak of World War II, there was a house down the street built around a very large tree that came up through the roof.
Ed advertised it as “Ancient Oak,” which made it sound more like an estate than a cottage. But I digress.
Tom says he’s about ready to retire, so he found a couple of young men — from Willoughby Hills and Wickliffe, both Lake Catholic graduates — who wanted to take over where he’s leaving off.
That is asking a lot, because Tom has cast a large shadow over the downtown area. The new owners are Tom Mirabelli and Steve Manno.
Tom Nichols is one of a kind. I have spent many an hour at his counter, observing as he installed new batteries in my watches, or just talking. And for the past 13 years, Charlie, his watch dog was also there, watching.
Charlie is a handsome shih tzu who is almost as familiar around Downtown Willoughby as Tom. Charlie knows his way around. The other day I saw him “leading” Tom down the sidewalk. Charlie was on the front end of a 15-foot leash.
Charlie knew where the store was. Before Tom even neared the store, Charlie had already turned into the doorway.
If you like watches and jewelry, Tom’s store was always a great place to window shop. It was also a great place just to drop in and talk.
Tom insists he’s old enough to retire, which I challenge because he won’t catch up with me, agewise, until next March.
But let me put it this way. He started working there with his dad when he was 17 and the store opened in 1945. Do the math.
I reminded Tom the other day of the big contest they held at the grand opening. He, or his dad, put a pile of diamonds on a mirror in the window. The challenge was to guess the number of stones on the mirror. Whoever was closest would win a shiny new watch.
As I recall, there were 174 diamonds in the pile. All the high school kids went in and submitted entries. I guessed 176. Don Johnson guessed 172. We were both off by two. So they called us in and flipped a coin. Don won. He got the new watch. As a consolation prize, I got a ball-point pen.
Don’t laugh. It was a very nice pen.
Tom’s daughter Sherry Wagner told me there was a history of smash-and-grab robberies and fires at the store. I don’t recall them. What I do recall is that Sherry, an English teacher at North High School, in 2007 won the coveted Adele Knight Award as a distinguished teacher. She retired last year but still substitutes.
I told Tom that Sherry was lucky: Not only was she an outstanding teacher, but she looks like her mother. His late wife, Fran, was one of three elegant Vest girls whose presence in Willoughby made it a more beautiful city.
Tom and Fran had two other children.
A son, Tom, known as Nick, is deceased. Another son, Tim, owns a hair salon in Mentor.
I am going to miss seeing Tom, standing in his doorway, chatting with the passers-by and offering a cheery welcome every time I walk down that side of the street — which is quite often.
Sherry informed me that an open house will be held today at the store, from 3 until 6 p.m.
Now, how is that for timing! — an article in the paper about Tom Nichols on the same day his family and friends are holding an open house for him.
Of course, timing is impossible without a good watch. Just thought I’d mention that.


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