MASSILLON – After a dabble into the arts business ran its course, Brooke Longheier is getting back to jewelry store basics by rebuilding the downtown brand.
CJ Duncan Jewelers — one of the city’s longest running businesses — is celebrating 125 years in operation this month at its 24 Lincoln Way E home.
“I feel young and refreshed,” said Longheier, who’s a few years into her ownership. “I’m getting things back to a little more of what it used to be.”
Longheier made the decision to take over the jewelry store for her father, Scott Longheier, who died of a heart attack in October 2018. The business originally opened by Curtis James Duncan is one of the city’s longest running operations — starting in 1897 — and has been a longtime pillar of downtown.
Longheier and her sister made the tough call early after their father’s passing to liquidate much of Duncan’s jewelry to keep the business afloat. In order for display cases and shelves in the store to stay stocked with merchandise, she sold artwork, antiques, paintings and craft items. But sales struggled.
Massillon’s downtown Streetscape project in summer 2019 closed the section of Lincoln Way E that abuts Duncan Jewelers, which greatly impacted foot traffic and store business, Longheier said. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020.
In September 2020, Longheier bought out her sister — who had a declining interest in the business — to become sole owner of the store. She had to sell some personal goods to complete the financial transaction.
“It’s been a rough three years. But we’re on the rebound,” Longheier said.
David Maley, Massillon’s economic development director, lauded CJ Duncan Jewelry for reaching its 125-year mark and called it a staple of downtown.
“Getting to 125 years is awesome. Hopefully, they’re around for another 125,” he said.
Today, the store offers a wide range of of new and pre-owned jewelry, such as rings, necklaces, watches, bracelets and chains. Jewelry repair, ring and chain sizing and watch battery replacement are services offered.
Artwork, glassware and wall art remain available at the store but have been moved to the rear to put the focus back on jewelry.
“The only thing we don’t do anymore is clock repairs,” Longheier said.
Downtown Massillon legacy business has historic gems, strong family ties
CJ Duncan Jewelers has multiple historic gems inside that aren’t for sale, including a 1915 National cash register still used to tally sales and an original Diebold Safe & Lock Co. safe with gold leaf outlines, which was custom built for the shop. Another old Diebold safe is used to store jewelry.
Longheier said her grandfather, Jack Longheier, started work in the early 1920s at Duncan Jewelry. He swept floors and did odd jobs.
Her father, Scott, began working there about a half-century later, in the early 1970s, doing minor repairs like fixing chains and replacing batteries in watches.
In April 2009, the jewelry shop received significant smoke damage and broken windows from a fire that also affected adjacent buildings. The structure impacted the most was Bonnie’s Engravers Gallery, which had to be relocated to another building.
Wings, Wheels and Waves, Massillon Quickprint and A Victorian Reflection were some other downtown establishments damaged by the blaze.
A more significant fire 110 years earlier caused more damage to the jewelry store. In 1899, the city’s first electrical fire scorched the Bee Hive Cash Store and much of the original Duncan.
Moving forward, Duncan Jewelers is looking to host private sessions for book clubs, Lego groups and craft aficionados to help generate some buzz around the business, Longheier said.
“I don’t want people to feel they have to spend a lot of money to enjoy the place,” she said.