A cut above: 140-year-old Sonoma County retailer E.R. Sawyer Jewelers thrives via relationship retail
T he track record of E.R. Sawyer Jewelers as the longest-running retail business in Sonoma County almost always triggers a question for co-owners Doug and Ame Van Dyke.
How has the business stuck around for 140 years? Since it’s a question they get asked a lot, Doug has a simple answer: relationships.
Ame Van Dyke, 50, and Doug Van Dyke, 57, take care to build relationships with the customers that come through their doors, as well as members of the community that they meet through charitable giving.
For decades, the Van Dykes and members of E.R. Sawyer Jewelers’ team have volunteered time and donated pieces to over 75 North Bay nonprofits. Recipients of the Van Dykes’ generosity include The Living Room, a day center for homeless women and children; the Sonoma County Farm Bureau; the Sonoma County Fair; Meals on Wheels; and United Way of the Wine Country.
When the 2017 Tubbs Fire devastated Santa Rosa, the couple took on a commitment to clean and restore all the damaged jewelry residents brought to them.
“We have just about finished working through a two-year backlog to repair local residents’ pieces damaged in the Tubbs Fire,” said Ame Van Dyke.
At a recent Business Journal marketing conference, Doug Van Dyke shared that the business ended up with almost 6,000 pieces of jewelry that residents recovered from burned lots and homes.
“E.R. Sawyer Jewelers saved and restored over 60% of them. Two years after the fire… (we are) just now moving on to the final 600 pieces,” said Van Dyke.
“(My jewelry was in) one of those buckets,” said a man in the audience, fighting back tears. He thanked Van Dyke for taking care of items that meant so much to his family.
Gaye LeBaron, columnist for The Press Democrat, said family is a primary factor in the longevity of older businesses, including E.R. Sawyer Jewelers.
“Businesses that are over 100 years old, like Corrick’s, Exchange Bank, and Mead Clark Lumber have been passed down. The patterns are established,” said LeBaron.
LeBaron said long-standing businesses are determined to keep going.
“Blessed (with)a long-standing clientele, they have customers who tell their daughters, and, more important, their sons, to buy from their jewelry (from) E.R. Sawyer Jewelers. Also, they have good advertising and put in the hard work necessary to succeed,” said LeBaron.
LeBaron added E.R. Sawyer Jewelers’ success is also due to its ability to “keep on top of old Santa Rosa.”
“Every city’s downtown is difficult to navigate. We (Santa Rosa) have grown out hugely in every direction. But at many community events and fundraisers, E.R. Sawyer Jewelers is there, offering a piece of jewelry as a means of raising funds for good causes. That’s being super community-oriented,” said LeBaron.
The history of two families
The store was founded in 1879 by John Sawyer as a watch and clock shop. In 1884, Sawyer’s son and successor, Elbert Ransom Sawyer, changed the name to E.R. Sawyer Jewelers. Elbert Sawyer ran the shop until he passed away in 1947. In 1949, Elbert’s widow Pearl Sawyer sold the shop to Allan and Virginia Flood and Allan’s uncle, Orrin Magoon.
Robert Van Dyke, Allan’s son-in-law, joined the store in 1962. Robert and the Floods’ daughter, Kathleen, took over the shop in 1978. Doug Van Dyke joined the company in the early 1980s. He trained for 15 years, assuming the role of president in 2002. Doug’s wife, Ame Van Dyke, became co-owner with Doug in the mid 2000s.