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Bye to Astrein's after 50 years

As Astrein's Creative Jewelry, 120 W. Maple Road, Birmingham, marks its 50th year in downtown Birmingham, brothers Gary and Richard Astrein are also preparing to say goodbye to their eponymous jewelry store at the end of June, as they now both have out-of-state grandchildren. Their retail saga began in 1973 with What's Upstairs, in the space above their current store, which featured turquoise, silver, pottery, belts, macrame, stained glass and art. “Our brother Craig went out west and bought turquoise, and turquoise was all the rage at the time,” Richard recalled. He said Warren Zussman originally had What's Upstairs, featuring '70s art, and Craig added the turquoise on consignment. “The turquoise just took off,” Richard said, and Craig bought Zussman out. In 1975-76, the former store Fads & Fashion was in Astrein's current location, and went out of business, and the Astrein brothers took over the space. In 1978, they bought the building and changed the name to Astrein's Fine Jewelry. By the end of the decade, into the early 1980s, Richard said, as silver and turquoise faded from fashion, they began bringing over gold from Italy and “doing more traditional jewelry. We still had a lot of art and interesting crafts, but jewelry became more of the focus. Then we got into engagement rings and have had a focus on contemporary jewelry.” As Astrein's grew, so did downtown Birmingham. “Birmingham was on fire – it was high fashion. There was Jacobson's, Himelhoch's, B. Siegel's, Hughes & Hatcher, Davidson's Bridal, Kresge's,” Richard reminisced. “We went along with the trends.” As stores closed and competition from Somerset North impacted the downtown shopping scene, the Astreins' worked with the city and Birmingham Shopping District (BSD) to keep Birmingham competitive – from helping with the original work planning the city's iconic 2016 Plan, supporting other retailers and believing in the innovative bistro liquor licenses, which helped invigorate the streets. “I was involved in all of it, and we're still viable,” Richard noted. Both brothers recognize their involvement with the community has been reciprocated. “We have served the community well, and the community has served us well,” said Gary, noting anyone with any charity or foundation seeking a donation over the years was supported. “We were part of the community and we extended ourselves. We would buy product just to support fundraisers and events.” Gary noted their business policies were with customers' best interests in mind. “We gave cash back, no question. It always created good will. We never wanted to fight with anyone,” he said. Besides the community, Astrein's has had many of the same employees for 30 or 40 years. “We're the oldest store in Birmingham, I think. Frank Caruso (Caruso Caruso) came a couple of years after us,” Gary said. Closing their doors after 50 spectacular years is a little bittersweet for both brothers, they acknowledge, and as Gary noted, “There's no legacy,” as all of their children have chosen other career paths out-of-state. As a thank you to their customers, they will host a giant closing sale from April 18 through June 18, when they close their doors for the final time. “We will continue to participate in volunteer activities in the community. We'll still be here. We just won't be looking for jobs,” said Gary.

Business Matters for the Birmingham - Bloomfield area are reported by Lisa Brody. Send items for consideration to Items should be received three weeks prior to publication.

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