By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Ballew Jewelers, a Red Bank staple since 1886, when it began as Reussille Jewelers, is pulling out of town, leaving a gaping hole, both symbolic and tangible, in a downtown struggling to tread water in a difficult economy.
News of the closing hit some of the nearby merchants like a sucker punch.
“It’s horrible. Horrible,” said Zebu Forno owner Andrew Gennusa. “For a business that’s more than a hundred years old to close here, it’s like a death.”
Though signs at the store and street hawkers holding signs have been loudly trumpeting a going-out-of-business sale in recent days, people associated with the business have been mum on the reasons for the closing. John Ballew, whose grandmother, Sarah Ballew, took over the business in 1930, declined to talk to redbankgreen for this story. But a manager last week said the two other Ballew stores, in Freehold and Sea Girt, will keep their doors open.
The store’s signature ‘lollipop’ clock out front has served as the town’s unofficial timepiece, and as a stalwart symbol of its mercantile legacy, since shortly after Leon de la Reussille moved his shop to that location, known as the Blumenberg Building, in 1902, according to local historian Randall Gabrielan.
Diamond dealer Alan Fisher, whose first job was at Ballew, said that experience turned him on to the jewelry business and set him on the path to owning his own store, A.H. Fisher Diamonds, which he opened in 1983. While one less competitor in town may bode well for his own business, overall it’s sad to see, he said.
“Empty stores send out negative messages for the town,” Fisher said, adding that operating in Red Bank has become “a survival of the fittest.”
Ballew’s departure could have a direct correlation to a dropoff in customers for borough businesses, merchants said. Gennusa said he stands to lose a guaranteed four or five customers a day because Ballew employees are regulars at Zebu for their lunch breaks. And any store closing reduces the number of shoppers who come in for lunch or coffee, he said.
Gennusa has already been looking at a dark hole across Broad Street Ashes Cigar Club since it was shut down by a state-appointed receiver in June. His business, like others, has suffered from the once-popular club’s vacancy.
Now Ballew will be added to the list of empty windows in Red Bank.
“Unfortunately this is just what’s going on right now,” said Patty Siciliano, owner of Funk & Standard, Ballew’s next-door neighbor.
But Siciliano and Fisher, who says he’s still bullish on Red Bank, are looking on the bright side.
“It will pass and we’ll learn a lot from it,” Siciliano said. “Hopefully somebody great will come back in there.”
Fisher said that even with Ballew’s departure, other longtime businesses are maintaining in the tough economy. Fisher, who recently relocated to 46 Broad, said his block in particular has great potential and is showing signs of life, with an updated Restoration Hardware and Red Ginger Home moving in last week.
“That’s three newly-renovated showrooms that have been in Red Bank. These are not new stores,” Fisher said. “The fact that the stores in town remain to be high-quality, service-oriented and, in most cases, owner-operated, this type of a mix you will not find in a mall.”
It’s unknown when Ballew will bid adieu.
John Ballew also owns the Broad Street building in which the store has been housed for 108 years, according to property records. His father, James Ballew, retired earlier this year after working in the business since 1953.