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Each year the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association recognizes four retail businesses as our ‘Retailers of the Year.’ Retailers can have a tremendous impact on the community or communities where they do business. The charities they support, the young employees they mentor, the families that frequent their stores and the entrepreneurs they inspire are all greatly impacted by the relationship and memories provided by their local retailers.
This year our association shined a light on four businesses whose impact has been profound. Over the next few months we will introduce you to each of them. The first 2016 Retailer of the Year we are going to feature is Starnes Jewelers of Albemarle, North Carolina. Because the award is given to the business, the plaque presented reads ‘Starnes Jewelers,’ but for anyone in Albemarle, or much of the surrounding area, Starnes Jewelers IS Gene Starnes and his family.
Starnes Jewelers in Albemarle North Carolina is the quintessential small family-owned business. Started in 1898 by F.E. Starnes from Union County, the business has been run by only three generations of Starnes spanning 118 years. In 1907 the Starnes and Parker families built the building that housed Starnes Jewelers, another business, and the Opera House which served as the entertainment hub of Stanley County and is now a favorite site of paranormal enthusiasts, famous for recorded ghost sightings. Starnes Jewelers has continued their store in that location since the building’s completion and in 1995 the Opera House/Starnes Jewelers building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U. S. Department of Interior.
The original Starnes Jewelry Store business was a multifaceted operation. In addition to jewelry, the store offered optician services and sold textbooks to students attending local schools. However, for many years now the store has focused on fine jewelry and gifts, including a complete selection of bridal goods. But it is more than just a local store. Locals are quite accustomed to coming to Starnes to buy their tickets to cultural affairs such as Uwharrie Player productions and other civic events.
Starnes was one of the first jewelry stores in North Carolina to be admitted to membership in the prestigious American Gem Society, and has been a member for over seventy years. Members of the family have held important positions in the society at both state and national levels. Gene Starnes, the present owner, and his brother-in-law, Chris Bramlett, have both served as President of the North Carolina Guild (stores belonging to the American Gem Society) and the North Carolina Jewelers Association.
Over the years Gene Starnes has served on numerous boards and committees in his church and community (Chambers of Commerce in Albemarle and Lexington, Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation, Albemarle Downtown Business Association, and the Albemarle Sesquicentennial Committee).
Prior to joining Gene in the jewelry business in 1981, Chris Bramlett had a career as professor and administrator at two universities, The University of Alabama and East Tennessee State. Still maintaining a tie to education, Chris is a Trustee Emeritus of Pfeiffer University and a Trustee of Stanly Community College. Chris was also a founder and Director of Bank of Stanly (now Uwharrie Capital Corp). In 2012 Chris was named to the Board of Directors of Stanly County Community Foundation and served as Chairman 2014-2016.
Community service is a family affair with the Starnes/Bramlett family. In 2008, Chris was designated Main Street Champion by the North Carolina Main Street Center. In 2015, Patricia Starnes Bramlett, wife of Chris and sister to Gene, was named Citizen of the Year for Stanly County by the Stanly County Chamber of Commerce in recognition of her many contributions to the cultural well-being of the county.
The Starnes Jewelers family can always be counted on to contribute to local charities, provide tours for school children, and mentor new jewelers across the state and the country, but despite their prominence and undeniable mark on downtown Albemarle, Gene Starnes and his family continue to display an incredible humility and servant spirit.
“I’m very excited to be honored with such a prestigious award,” said Starnes. “My family has worked for three generations and 118 years to be the best retailers we could for our customers and our neighbors, and I’m so humbled to have been recognized for our efforts.”