Locally-owned businesses, when they mark a milestone anniversary, can rejoice in the satisfaction of having watched it grow, expand and then provide the groundwork for another generation’s leadership. Rejoice is apt, given the “sweat-equity” that most family-owned businesses know firsthand.
Kraft Jewelers celebrates 50 years in business come May. That’s a big deal, for sure.
Steve Kraft tells me there will be a Chamber Business After Hours social, some in-store specials and prizes and a new store sign with a modified logo. That sign has been a part of Sheridan’s Main Street for more than two generations.
Steve’s father, Richard Kraft, opened the store 50 years ago after working for six years for Jorgenson Jewelry. He had graduated from Elgin Watch School and had relocated here with his young family from Menasha, Wis.
“He had taken the job over the phone,” Steve recalled the other morning at Java Moon. “When they hit Gillette, my mother, Marjorie, began to question his sanity. Gillette, then, was a grim oil town. They had left the greenery of Wisconsin. But by the time they arrived in Buffalo and then Sheridan, they were committed to giving it a chance.”
The store prospered, always in its same location, 11 N. Main St. In 1976, it expanded, adding additional retail space. Steve, 54, began working full time in the store in 1979. Like many sons in family-owned businesses he started young and had all kinds of “character-building” jobs — stockroom chores, cleaning and when they expanded, hauling all of the building materials out to the dump. One touchstone remains from those days of expansion: he was part of the store’s cabinetry, helping craft and stain the walnut cases, always a welcoming focal point in the store’s showroom. No doubt many engagements were sealed by young couples, leaning on those cabinets, looking back and forth at the other, picking out a wedding set.
So one question? Diamonds or pearls.
“Diamonds,” he says firmly. “Both people have to buy into the decision that means it’s for real, it’s a commitment.”
For a time, Kraft’s expanded into Buffalo for eight years. In 1990, he bought the store from his parents. His son, Spencer Kraft, 25, is the next generation and works in the store. His spouse, Echo, is a division manager for USBank.
One of the better customer service stories is about a rancher who had three mail-order brides (really). He had a large ranch northwest of Gillette. “It was out in the middle of nowhere,” Steve says.
“The first one (bride) didn’t expect to live in such isolation and to be worked so hard, so she left him,” he says. The rancher brought his second bride into Kraft’s and wanted an identical set of rings, Black Hills gold, because, the rancher told him, “they had held up so darn well.” It was a little awkward with Bride Number Two standing there, he says with a laugh. But he made the sale. Years later, the rancher married a third mail-order bride and came back to Kraft’s.
“That’s one of the reasons we’ve succeeded for 50 years — repeat customers,” Steve says. “We provide service, knowledge. We offer a fair price with no fictitious (game) markup.”
Having a long-term Main Street business means serving on a lot of local boards. These days, he’s an enthusiastic member of the Gold Buckle Club, the fund-raising, prosperity-ensuring board for the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo, Sheridan’s signature summer event. “The rodeo is part of Sheridan’s culture.”
Just like his store’s namesake.