A downtown fixture for as long as anyone can remember, Fletcher Smith’s Jewelers is celebrating 95 years in business this fall.
Fletcher Smith (III) looked back on the history of the business, which started with his grandfather, Fletcher Smith Sr., in 1919. Before going into the jewelry business, Fletcher Smith Sr. had been a typesetter for the Log Cabin Democrat.
“At that time it was customary for a jeweler to go in with an optometrist,” Smith said. “He bought the business from J.J. Livingston. It was a jewelry, optical and music shop. It was known as Harton and Smith Jewelry.”
William Harton was the optometrist in the venture, which was located at 214-216 Oak St., which would later become JC Penney. In the early 1920s, P.E. Rose, one of the south’s leading watchmakers, came to work in the business, Smith said. In 1924, Harton and Smith dissolved their partnership, and the store became known as Fletcher Smith’s Jewelers.
In 1936, the store moved to Front Street, where it was located until just a few years ago. Marinello Beauty Shop, owned by Ester Powers, was under the same roof with the jewelry store for many years.
“(It) became the meet and greet place of Conway for the ladies,” Smith said. “Every day the store was filled with ladies getting their hair fixed and with lots of conversation.”
The beauty shop would continue to share a building with the jewelry store until the 1960s.
“There was good and bad that went along with this,” Smith said. “The bad was that you never got used to the smell of the permanent solution that permeated the air. And the hair dryers were located by the balcony, so that young couples could not purchase rings on the sly. The good was that we were around all these wonderful people every day and became very close friends, which I think also contributed to Conway’s community spirit.”
He added, “When the beauty parlor moved in 1967, I can remember my dad saying he was going to miss all the ladies very much, but he would not miss the smell of the permanent solution.”
Fletcher Smith Sr. died in 1941, leaving his wife, Lutie, to run the store. Fletcher Smith Jr. entered the business in 1935 but left Conway for the duration of World War II to be a control tower operator in China. On his return, he took over the business, joining his mother and his wife, Willie.
Fletcher Smith III joined the business in 1974. At that time he became the goldsmith. He and his wife, Sherry, took over the business in 1992, and Fletcher Smith Jr. died in 1997.
In 2007, the business moved from Front Street back to Oak Street, just an alley’s distance away from the original location. The new store takes in the former locations of O-K Barber Shop, Central Meat Market and the Co-Ed Café.
Sherry Smith said, “In the early to mid-90s when we started doing tons of custom design work, we won two design contests.”
They won the Arkansas Jewelers Association CARAT first place award two years in a row, and in 1999 they were named Arkansas Jewelers of the Year by the same organization.
Sherry Smith added, “This community has been so supportive of us. We will be eternally grateful for that. We feel like you need to give back. One of the ways we choose to do that is through charitable organizations that help children.”
Smith said it is important for him to remember “all the colorful people that came in and the wonderful conversations we had” over the years.
He recalls State Sen. Guy “Mutt” Jones used to come to the store after hours on Christmas Eve each year to shop for all the women in his family.
“Every piece my dad would show him, he’d hold it in his hand and say, ‘This is beautiful in its own simplicity.’”
The couple also recalls plenty of encounters they just have to laugh about.
Smith said, “We had a lady come in and dump a bunch of little diamonds on the counter and tell me she wanted them melted into one big one.”
“You get all kinds in retail,” Sherry Smith said.
About five years ago, a student came into the store and asked how old the store was. Smith told him 90 years.
“He said, ‘You don’t look that old.’ I just said, ‘Thank you.’”
With a rich history behind them, the owners of Fletcher Smith’s Jewelers look forward to many more years of serving Conway.
(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)