SALEM — The sign outside 179 Essex St. says it’s a store closing, but for loyal customers of Bernard’s Jeweler’s this is a wake.
“I’m going to miss you,” a woman said yesterday as she scurried past store owners Ray Tetrault Jr. and his younger brother, Tom. “I’m going to start crying.”
For 80 years, Bernard’s Jeweler’s has been a trusted family business for countless Salem and North Shore residents. This is where new parents went for baby spoons and where nervous young men bought engagement rings.
“I actually waited on one customer who was a fourth generation,” said Tom Tetrault.
As much as Derby Wharf or Old Town Hall, Bernard’s is a city landmark, the last of the big-name stores from the days when Essex Street was shopper’s heaven.
It was once part of a fabled retail lineup that included Almy’s, Daniel Low, Rook’s Furriers, Lally Shoe, L.H. Rogers, Newmark’s, Weber’s, Clark and Friend, Jerry’s Army & Navy Store, and Colonial Men’s Shop.
Bernard’s announced the closing Friday and was swamped with customers on Saturday. The store was shut yesterday while staff prepared for a going-out-of-business sale that begins today, but it didn’t stop customers from shaking the front door and peering through the windows.
“It’s a tough decision,” said Ray Jr., 72, who is retiring along with Tom, 59.
“Business is still good,” Tom said. “It’s just time.”
The brothers worked here as boys, starting out in the stock room and doing whatever they could to help their father, Raymond Tetrault Sr., who founded the business in 1934 when he was only 21 and the country was struggling through the Great Depression.
It was a bold venture for Tetrault Sr., who was an orphan by the time he was 10 and was raised by grandparents in a French-Canadian neighborhood around the old St. Joseph Church. After graduating from the former Salem Commercial School, he saved $1,000 working as a bookkeeper and parts manager at the old Mill Hill Motors and opened the jewelry business with a cousin.