What kind of business today sends their product out of state, to a former customer, at no cost, for a "test drive"? If you are talking jewelry in the Gaffer District, you are talking about Bong's Jewelers. Opened in 1892, the most veteran of Market Street businesses still offers an old-world shopping experience. Current proprietor Jeff Bong is the fourth generation to help area families mark milestone occasions.
"Jewelry tends to be a happy purchase." He says. "Weddings, anniversaries, graduations, retirements. There is a reason to celebrate every stage of life." Such courtesy extends to former residents who call for a special purchase, and Jeff sends off a half-dozen possible choices, simply asking that the non-selected options be returned to him.
Despite the avalanche of information available online, when it comes to buying precious stones, especially diamonds, nothing beats handling the real thing. "The most meaningful conversations happen over the counter," says Jeff. "I've calmed the nerves of many a young man making that important purchase."
Jeff's great-grandfather emigrated from France, bringing the family skill of watchmaking. Bong's opened on a brick Market Street, with horse-drawn buggies clomping by the display window. "It has always been in the same spot, run by the same family," he says. His Dad began as a Harvard-educated CPA and an accountant for the 1947 New York World's Fair. Jeff himself started in real estate. But the lure of home and the legacy of a family business proved hard to resist. After training in Ithaca, he has spent the last forty years honing his skills as a jeweler.
The father of two daughters, Jeff is starting to consider what the future might bring for him and Bong's. With his children engaged in other careers, Jeff knows he might be the last of the family to operate the business. "I'm exercising a little executive privilege," he laughs. "I can come in a little late or leave a bit early. But I still enjoy this. I like the challenge of doing well for my customers. I'm proud of all of the special moments we have been a part of."