Puttin’ on the Glitz

Shiny baubles, bangles, and beads

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

vintage0414In 2009, Dolores Kurjan left Designers’ Circle to open her own jewelry shop, Vintage Jewelers, on College Street in Burlington. Her main inventory is period and vintage estate jewelry, although she also designs handcrafted pieces and does appraisals and repairs. Remi Rainbow is her pug-Chihuahua mix.

Dolores Kurjan is a self-confessed “true romantic.” “My true joy in what I do is the romance — people’s stories, their love for each other, and how they share it.”

Kurjan is the owner of Vintage Jewelers, a small shop she opened on College Street in Burlington in 2009. The store showcases estate jewelry with a focus on period and vintage pieces, but Kurjan also designs handcrafted fine-art jewelry and offers appraisals and repair service.

An example of her work is an oval halo engagement ring she created from a vintage diamond for the couple whose wedding this month will be the first held at Burlington International Airport.

“She is a true romantic, says Jovana Guarino, a freelance designer working on the wedding event, and a former colleague Kurjan calls her Number One client. “Dolores has worked with them all the way through their romance, and has just ordered the wedding band. “I must add,” Guarino continues, “She loves romance, but she does it in high-quality style.”

Kurjan’s romantic bent carries over into her personal life, as evidenced by the 60th birthday surprise she pulled off last month for her husband, David Sisco, the owner of Designers’ Circle in Burlington.

In March, she surprised him with a secret trip to Hawaii for a week. To break the news she gave him a card saying, “Aloha!” after they landed in New York. Because each of them runs a separate business, finding time together can be a challenge, she says. “We get so little time together, that one week felt like two.”

A Burlington native, Kurjan grew up in Milton. “My father was a construction foreman and superintendent all of his life,” she says. “My mom was a housewife. And they both were farm kids growing up in Vermont. Both had eighth-grade educations, so they were very happy that we went beyond that.”

After high school, she entered Castleton State College. She had her first child while in school, and subsequently left to join her fiancé in Boston. A second daughter was born there, but the marriage did not last. She returned to Vermont after three years.

She was hired to work in the bridal department at Preston’s Jewelers on Church Street, she says, then moved into jewelry. “I went through the store, their different departments, until I got to engagement rings, which I enjoyed.” Preston’s sent her through the Gemological Institute of America to learn diamond grading.

Kurjan married for the second time while at Preston’s. “He was the controller there for a short time. We got married and had a daughter together, and he helped me raise my other children. Sadly, I lost him to cancer when I turned 40.”

During those years, Kurjan worked for Designers’ Circle, having been hired by Dennis Bosch, who sold the business in 1997 to Sisco. She managed Designers’ Circle for a number of years, and in 2006, began selling estate jewelry there on consignment.

“I always had a love of that,” says Kurjan, now 50. “It probably started at Preston’s, because they had an estate case there. I loved the character of the pieces — the individual beauty they had.”

Wanting to investigate the possibility of opening her own store, Kurjan left Designers’ Circle “six or so years ago,” she says. “I searched around and decided I wanted to take the plunge — the risk, I guess. I found this little spot on College, close enough to Church Street but a little more affordable, with a storefront between Marilyn’s and Bennington Potters. I felt it would be good for me to begin in a small way.” Vintage Jewelers opened in 2009.

By then, Kurjan’s friendship with Sisco had blossomed into “something else,” she says. And three and a half years ago, they married. Each one brought three children to the extended family — now between the ages of 21 and 30.

The shop is bright and charming, decorated with items Kurjan brought in from home, including a quartet of large stained-glass hangings, and artwork from area artists. “I’ve been part of the First Friday Art Walk since I opened,” she says. “I really enjoy meeting all the wonderful artists. Every other month we feature a different artist.”

Kurjan’s approach has been conservative, but growth has been steady. “It’s grown well, and I’ve been able to maintain my inventory,” she says. “As a little business, cash flow is always an issue, and I’ve wanted to stay out of any type of high, to me, debt level.”

She’s open six days a week, from 11 a.m. “I come in around 10:30 and set up the store, because all jewelry of value needs to be removed from the cases every day. Then, gosh, I have appraisal work that I do. Generally that’s a morning thing. People come in periodically.”

The remainder of her day is spent on research work for appraisals and buying jewelry, some repair work, and custom pieces that need work. “There’s always work to be done, especially as I’m a one-woman show.”

Although the winter months, particularly March, are the slowest periods, this March was a good one, she says. It’s been challenging to learn how to effectively market the shop.

“As a little business having a limited budget for advertising, and in such a complicated environment — knowing where to place that money today, as opposed to years past when you had more limited avenues to advertise — has been a challenge.

“I’ve done a lot of print, ’cause I’m an old-fashioned business. I’m that storefront that’s disappearing,” she says with a laugh, adding that she sees a lot of young people in the store. “And I think they do appreciate some old-fashioned quality, and certainly the beauty of what I’m trying to offer. And you can find me online.”

A big change these days, says Kurjan, is how much more knowledgeable her customers are. “Knowledge is so easily accessible, so you have to be as educated as your customer, and more so, in a selling environment.”

But it’s Kurjan’s old-fashioned approach that appeals to Margo Diehl of South Burlington, who first encountered her at Preston’s and has followed her as she moved. “That first day at Preston’s when I met her, I think it was her openness and her whole approach that attracted me to her,” Diehl says.

“She has a nice eye and it is just a delight to walk in her store and take a half an hour to browse through it,” Diehl continues. “The shop is just comfortable — it really invites you in and envelops you. And she will explain what you’re buying and is knowledgeable on the subject, whether it’s the type of stone or the quality of the stone so you know exactly what you are buying.”

Kurjan and Sisco live “by a little lake in Milton” — a return to her roots. Remi Rainbow, their pug-Chihuahua mix, whom they adopted last July, spends days in the store with Kurjan. “I’ve always wanted a little one to bring in. We have two Australian shepherd mixes, Tori and Myra, and a cat whose legal name is Jewelia, but we call her Miss Kitty. I do a lot of cleanup for these animals. “We’re always molting here.”

When she has time, Kurjan enjoys skiing — “I took up downhill and cross-country in my 40s — and kayaking.

She’s keeping her eyes peeled for “that perfect little spot up on Church Street. Though I love my location, I’d love more foot traffic. It’s hard to find that perfect spot at a reasonable rent that’s doable. Nothing’s come available, but I do keep my eye on that. Otherwise, I’d like to continue to grow my business, conservatively, and take on an employee at some point.”

Asked what her favorite vintage piece has been, Kurjan mentions a ring, “a Georgian piece with an emerald-cut emerald and rubies and diamonds and other emeralds in a garden pattern, like a flower basket. That was sold as an engagement ring to a very special woman with her fiancé.

“But I’d like to mention the most special custom piece that I’ve created: my daughter’s engagement ring. She got engaged last summer and will be married this fall. Working with my husband, who carved it, and her fiancé to surprise her — that was the most emotional one for me.” •