In August of 1969, a meat cutter at Safeway Stores and a secretary at a local insurance company traded their careers to get into the jewelry business.
Nearly 46 years — and two generations later — Burkes Fine Jewelers in Kilmarnock is still going strong. The shop, located at 86 South Main Street, is a favorite of locals and visitors alike, who have come to expect quality service, superior craftsmanship, lasting relationships and of course, beautiful jewelry.
Fred and Dorothy Burke, the former meat cutter and secretary, purchased Finney’s Quality Jewelers and opened as Burkes Jewelers on Aug. 25, 1969. Fred Burke Jr. and his wife Karen took over the family business in 1987. And now, their son Justin and his wife Melissa are a vital part of the business.
We caught up with Whitney Lang, marketing and inventory manager, to chat about life at Burkes.
How did you get involved with the business?
I spent six months as a stay-at-home-mom after my son was born. I casually approached Karen for suggestions for a part-time job locally that she thought I’d enjoy. We met for lunch the next day and she hired me to come on board as the marketing and social media manager two to three days a week. I became full-time two months ago. I have been with Burkes for almost two years. (My very first job was working for Karen at Karen’s Kup serving coffee and selling gift items. I was around 13 or 14 years old at the time, and I always dreamed about working in the jewelry store. Funny how that has come full circle...)
What is it like working for a third-generation business?
Burkes Fine Jewelers has been in business for almost 46 years. I assist folks who have been customers for as long as we’ve been in business, folks who purchased their wedding rings from Mr. & Mrs. Burke 30-plus years ago, and it's very, very special to hear their stories. It is also special for me to tell the Burkes story to our new customers so they understand the history of our company. I have the pleasure of working first-hand with the Burkes, and I see their dedication and passion for the family business. They have a way of making us (employees) feel like family.
How has the business changed over the years? How has it stayed the same?
Since 1969, we've grown in terms of square footage, employees, inventory, etc. We’re constantly keeping up with the latest styles and trends so obviously our jewelry selection has changed over the years. Burkes continues to provide the Northern Neck with good, old-fashioned customer service, unique designs, custom creations, and superior craftsmanship.
What challenges has the business had to overcome?
Just like any other business, the changing economy. In the jewelry industry specifically, the high rise in the price of metals.
What is the key to Burkes’ success?
The entire Burkes experience: The passion and expertise that Karen and Fred possess. The environment of the store and the welcoming staff, not to mention the cold Northern Neck Ginger Ale that we serve to our customers. The River Collection’s unique nautical designs that resonate with Northern Neckers and out-of-towners alike. (Check out our newest original design, the Bridge to Paradise — the White Stone/Robert O. Norris Bridge.) The passion to create one-of-a-kind designs for customers. The whole experience makes Burkes Fine Jewelers successful... and a fantastic place to work.
Complete the sentence. Burkes Fine Jewelers is...
A Northern Neck tradition.