Lawrence's II, an original tenant of the Rogue Valley Mall and an offshoot of one of Medford's oldest stores, is going out of business.
Chuck Horton, whose great-grandfather John Lawrence began the jewelry business in 1908, said he is stepping away from storefront retailing for health reasons but plans to pursue jewelry sales via the Internet.
Lawrence's Jewelers at 232 E. Main St. is the oldest continuous family-operated business in downtown Medford. The downtown store, which underwent an extensive seismic remodeling four years ago, will remain in operation under Jerry Horton, Chuck's brother.
The upper-floor mall business is scheduled to close at the end of December, although Chuck Horton said it could close as early as Christmas Eve.
Despite intense competition from national and regional jewelry chains, Lawrence II held its own financially.
"When we came out here, my mom (Ann Horton) and uncle (Bob Butler) and brother were all involved and it was hard to support all four of our families out of one downtown store," Chuck Horton said. "We opened this store and it was a pretty good deal for a long time. I actually had a lot of fun."
But health considerations have pushed their way up the 56-year-old merchant's priority list.
"I need more exercise and rest and when you have a store here, you have to be open," Horton said. "People get sick, their kids get sick and husbands get sick and relatives die. When all these things happen, I end up filling in the hours myself and it's hard to set a schedule with time off."
Lawrence's II has employed 10 to 12 people, roughly double the downtown staff.
"We're open 82 hours a week and it takes almost two shifts of people here and that's kind of expensive," Horton says. "It takes fewer hours to run the downtown."
In the 20-plus years since Lawrence II opened, much has changed in the retail industry.
"Costco came to town. It didn't have a great variety of jewelry, but it was priced well," Horton said. "That made an impact on all retailers."
Even before online options grew abundant, television shopping networks began hawking jewelry and an increase in leisure travel reshaped the industry.
"Baby boomers are coming back from vacations with jewelry," Horton said. "That means we have to have a better selection to have what they've been seeing out of town."
But Horton sees a much broader shift coming that will have an impact on retailers in the not-so-distant future.
"Look back, maybe a little over 100 years," Horton said. "Everything was done by mail order and catalogs and the biggest retailer in the world was Montgomery Ward."
When the automobile age arrived and competitors began building stores on crossroads, the newcomers prevailed. Then malls came along, attracting customers to a variety of shops under one roof.
"The Internet is a better way to get products to the market today," Horton said. "It's the wave of the future and I don't think anything is going to stop it. People don't want to waste their resources going to the mall or downtown store when wherever you are you can buy it for less."
The jewelry business, dominated by chains such as mall fixtures Fred Meyer Jewelers, Zales, Samuels Jewelers and Kay Jewelers, has changed as well.
"The advent of quartz watches took out the need for watch repair," Horton said. "You still have to replace batteries, but it's not like you have to go to watch repair school; you can teach someone to change batteries in a couple of hours. Technicians have been replaced by a salesperson. I put more emphasis on repairs. If we sold a watch, we should be able to adjust the band. The chains are very good at marketing and I tip my hat to them."
Jerry Horton said he anticipates at least some of Lawrence's mall customers will find their way back to the downtown shop.
"Hopefully it will increase downtown business a little bit," he said. "Some people go to the mall, because it's where they want to go. I'm kind of waiting to see what happens. For most (merchants) I talk with downtown, it's been difficult.
"We don't get enough foot traffic. We're destination shops so people don't walk around downtown too much window shopping or walking in to see what's in the store. I get people with a purpose, coming for a wedding gift, engagement ring or a battery for a watch. At the mall store, a lot of people would come in just looking around."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail email@example.com.