BARTHMAN’S BLUEPRINT TO RISE AGAIN
Byline: Melanie Kletter
NEW YORK — William Barthman Jewelers, a 118-year-old retailer located a block away from the World Trade Center site, has survived through wars, the Great Depression and many other traumatic events in its long history.
But none hit home the way that the recent attacks did.
Due to its close proximity to Ground Zero, Barthman’s suffered extensive damage to its facade and interior. Now, the company’s executives are vowing to renovate and rebuild the store, which still has ash and soot covering its decades-old fixtures.
“We are hoping to open in time for Valentine’s Day,” said store manager Joel Koppel, who is still working in the same building, but now on the fifth-floor gallery instead of the ground-floor store front. “All of our watch displays were custom built and need to be redone, and we have a lot of details to work out with the insurance company.”
The delay is causing the store to be closed at the crucial holiday season, although Koppel declined to give an estimate as to how much business has been lost. Company executives have been working with its insurance company to determine the losses and have also been trying to obtain a small business loan.
Koppel, along with his wife, Renee, were in the store when the first plane struck on Sept. 11, and they quickly began putting the merchandise away and clearing out customers. After the second plan hit, the couple put as much merchandise as they could in the safe and ran to fetch their daughter from her school located two blocks from the WTC.
The windstorm that accompanied the falling towers broke some of the store’s windows, as well as the door glass, which have now been replaced, but the Koppels were unable to return to the store for a week after the attacks.
Located in a historic building at the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane, Barthman carries some of the finest jewelry and watch brands, including Rolex, Baume & Mercier, Movado and David Yurman. Koppel said most of its vendors have been supportive. Many were willing to postpone advertising programs and a number have called just to check in. “It is going to be a healing process,” he said. “We just need some time to get the store done right.”
Barthman’s is the sole survivor of the diamond district that flourished in lower Manhattan in the early part of the 20th century, long before the financial district took over much of downtown and the diamond trade moved uptown. Barthman’s has kept much of the decor from the 19th century, which is one reason that reopening may be delayed.
“A lot of the furniture is going to take a few months to refurbish,” Koppel said.
In addition, carpets need to be replaced and phone lines have been extensively damaged due to debris and need to be repaired.
Since the attack, life has dramatically changed for Koppel, who used to arrive at the store around 5 a.m. to begin setting up window displays and trimming the store. He and his wife and daughter also live in the neighborhood, and have seen virtually every area of their lives affected in some way by the tragedy.
“Many of our customers are missing,” he said.
The store also had some looting in the days immediately following the tragedy, although the police were able to catch the thieves in action and the Koppel’s recovered some of the missing items.
While many stores around it have reopened, Barthman’s has been slow to get back to business due to the extensive damage it suffered. Koppel believes that stores located on side street corners were hit harder, since much of the dust and soot went barreling down those streets, partially sparing retailers in the middle of the block.
The company has not laid off any of its 13 employees, although some of the watch and repair experts are now working out of Barthman’s other store, located in Brooklyn. The company’s executives have spent time calling vendors and trying to return jewelry to customers, much of which now has greater significance.
“We had one man who is now missing and had his ring here to be sized, and his wife called very frantically to get it back, since it is a reminder of him,” said Renee.
David Alger, brother of Fred Alger, who had his namesake company in One World Trade Center, was a client and is among those who perished.
Many of the store’s back-office functions are being handled from the transformed gallery upstairs, which sells giftware, bridal and corporate items, and it is still taking repairs at that location.
“I miss the old routines,” Koppel said. “On a mundane level, I miss trimming the windows and getting the store ready. But I do feel more a sense of community here with other vendors and residents. This is something we all shared together.”