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LI jewelry retailers see signs of hope as year ends

Last holiday season was the pits for many Long Island jewelry retailers, but some now say they are seeing signs of hope at the end of a difficult year.

"I think that now people are coming back, and they are buying," said Candy Udell, president of London Jewelers, which has five Long Island locations. "They are realizing that jewelry is a great investment because when they see the price of gold going up, they realize they have more. It's an heirloom they can pass down."

To be clear, jewelers said their revenues are not at pre-recession levels, but some reported December sales ranging from slight increases to a 20 percent jump from last year. Last weekend's big snowstorm didn't help, but customers have returned this week and jewelers are hoping for strong sales from last-minute shoppers.

"Sometimes you can recoup, and sometimes you can't," said Vincent Cangro, proprietor of Sayville's F. Stadtmuller Jewelers. "In the jewelry business it takes only one sale, and with last-minute male shoppers that can happen at 2 p.m. [today].

Nationally, the jewelry industry has been hit hard this year. Through November, bankruptcies increased almost 71 percent, according to the Jewelers Board of Trade, a Rhode Island-based credit reporting agency specializing in the jewelry industry. Private jewelers' sales decreased by 4 percent for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, says Sageworks Inc., a Raleigh, N.C., research firm that analyzes financial data.

But recent news has been more upbeat. MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, an information service that estimates sales for all forms of payment, including cash, checks and credit cards, reported three months of year-over-year growth in jewelry sales. This week the service released data showing a 0.7 percent increase from November through Dec. 12 compared to the same period last year.

Jewelers have relied on different strategies to boost business, including providing lower price points in their selection.

Emanuel Sofiev, owner of Maddy Fine Jewelry in Syosset, is offering a 4 percent cash bonus or an additional 10 percent store credit for those selling gold. Customizing jewelry also has become popular.

"If they are going to spend money, they don't want something run-of-the-mill," he said.

The recession prompted London Jewelers to scrutinize its operations and strengthen its business model. It also has expanded its bridal business, Udell said.

In Huntington, Freedman Jewelers has more than made up for its Sunday storm closure, said owner Eric Freedman.

"Many of our customers are positive about the economy," he said. "It looks like we're going to have a good year."

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