Photo by A llan Na hoJewskl
Richard and Gary Astrein carve out
a good life in the jewelry business.
Special to the Jewish News
wo brothers with complementary
strengths and common goals are
celebrating their 35th year in
business together — all at the same loca-
Gary and Richard Astrein are partners
in Astrein Creative Jewelry on Maple in
downtown Birmingham. "We've been
here for so long that we're now serving a
second generation:' says Richard. "We're
selling engagement and wedding rings to
our customers' kids:'
They've been through a few business
cycles over the years. "This is the third
recession we've weathered — and the
longest:' says Richard. "But we're still
here and healthy, and things are on an
Many in the community benefit from
their success. The brothers are generous
sponsors of various worthy causes.
How did you get started in the
Richard: Our brother Craig got the busi-
ness started around 1973. He was travel-
ing out west and bought a lot of turquoise
jewelry, which was a hot craze at the time.
Gary and I joined in a year or two later.
We were in the same building we are in
now, but upstairs. In fact, we called our
business 'What's Upstairs: We sold art, sil-
ver and turquoise at first. Business grew,
the store downstairs became available, so
we made the move in 1976.
Why the jewelry business?
Richard: Good question. Our father was
in the building business. He used to say
that builders would buy jewelry when
they made money, and jewelers would buy
land, so we figured it was a good invest-
How has the business changed over
Richard: We got out of crafts around
32 June 16 2011
1980 to focus on jewelry. It was getting
hard to find artists. We started making
custom jewelry. Back in the '80s, about 70
percent of our jewelry was custom-made.
Today, about 35 percent of our work is
Trends have changed. Now there's an
emphasis on silver, pearl and colored
stones. We've seen a shift to price-con-
scious shopping lately. Some are coming
in looking to spend $100, but there are
still some looking to spend $100,000.
What's it like to work with your
Richard: It's wonderful. Gary and I have
a great working partnership. I do a lot of
the public relations and charity work. He
handles the nuts and bolts of the business.
Gary: I do most of the diamond buying,
the merchandising, a lot of the advertis-
ing; and I run the shop downstairs. We
have a three-person shop that does the
repairs and the custom work. That's my
responsibility — new product, going to
trade shows, picking out diamonds and
colored stones, getting jobs ready, making
sure we're on track from start to finish, in
addition to selling.
Richard: We cover well. When I'm away,
he's here, and vice versa. It's just a nice
feeling. We're different personalities, but
we work well together.
we've done thousands of pieces — we can
count on one hand the number of times
the customer wasn't totally happy. I just
think we just have a really good feel for
the customer. We've got a great staff. They
do quality work, and it shows. Most of our
business is referral. That's exciting to us.
We love coming to work. We have a great
In what ways do you get involved with
Gary: We feel a strong connection to our
community. I live in town and walk to
work. We believe in giving back. We've
tried to focus on children's needs during
these times. Giving back is a big part of
who we are.
What are the keys to your success?
Richard: We feel that the customers are
most important, so we see that they get
treated right whether they buy or not. A
lot of stores are driven by commissions,
and that can be an uncomfortable feel-
ing. Of our 12 employees, four are family.
Some of our employees have been with us
more than 30 years. It's a close-knit group.
Nobody works on commission. We're on
a first-name basis with 80 percent of the
people who walk in the door.
If a customer is unhappy, we'll give a
cash refund. Very few jewelers do that.
Even when we do custom work — and
Richard: Because there are two of us,
we're able to be more involved. Some
business owners can't afford to be away
from the store too long.
I'm on the Beaumont Foundation
board. We do a lot for the pediatrics
department. We do a huge fundraiser
called Stars' Guitars that's special to us. It
provides scholarships to cancer survivors.
This year, we're awarding 50 scholarships.
I also chair the Chocolate Jubilee for
Alzheimer's. That's been near and dear to
me. And I'm on the boards for Children's
Leukemia and Common Ground
What do you see for the future?
Richard: I think Michigan is going to
make a comeback. This recession has
lingered. We're losing a lot of popula-
tion. And we're losing some of the best
young people who are going elsewhere
for opportunity. The most critical thing
we need to do in this state is to believe
in ourselves, to know that we're going to
come out of it.
Gary: Kids today are very worldly and,
with the current job market, Michigan
has been a tough place to stay. We've lost
a lot of good kids — and not just in the
Jewish community. I think the first step in
a rebound might be people coming back.
We do have advantages — the cost of liv-
ing, the sense of community. That could
make a difference.
Richard: It's interesting to see a return of
family-owned businesses to Birmingham.
When we started here, just about all the
businesses were family-owned. Then, we
went through a period where we had the
typical chain stores downtown, and we
found that they really didn't connect to
the community as well. Now we're see-
ing a whole new group of merchants and
entrepreneurs coming in.
That's one of the nice things about
Birmingham. It offers a different flavor.
It's a vibrant community. Li