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A long career in a place that 'just seemed right'

Rochester Business Journal
November 30, 2012

Irondequoit staple Jerry's Jewelers is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. But the career of its founder, Gerardo Magnotta, has been even longer, spanning more than 60 years and three continents.
 
Magnotta's career in jewelry began when he was 11 years old in Naples, Italy. He followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather as a watch repairman.
 
"In Italy, a young person would follow their father or grandfather's profession 90 percent of the time," says Magnotta, now 75, in an Italian accent. "I would sit on a big bench, working on the small parts inside a clock. You had to train your hands to work on small things."
 
After World War II, Magnotta's father moved to Venezuela for work. Magnotta stayed behind.
 
Magnotta says he planned to join the military but was rejected because there were too many applicants. So instead he joined his father in Venezuela, where he worked as a watch repairman for six years.
 
When Magnotta was 25, the company he worked for agreed to send him to Germany for more training. He accepted the opportunity, but first he planned to stop in Rochester, where members of a family he had known in Naples were working at Hickey Freeman.
 
Magnotta landed in America in January of 1962. Two members of the family from Naples were waiting to greet him at the airport. And one of them, a woman named Adelina, would become his wife just a month later.
 
"I never made it to Germany," Magnotta recalls. "The situation here just seemed right for me."
 
That summer he took a job as a watch repairman at a jewelry store on North Street in Rochester. He worked there for four months before deciding to start his own jewelry business.
 
Magnotta opened Jerry's Jewelers in a small space at the Irondequoit Plaza on Titus Avenue. After a year, he moved the store to a nearby location, near the House of Guitars. In 1989 he purchased the property for the current site of Jerry's Jewelers at 1368 East Ridge Road.
 
On a wall in the repair room at the store, Magnotta has pictures of three generations of family jewelers, starting with a photo of his grandfather taken in 1910. The fourth generation, son Frank, joined the business in 1985 after graduating from St. John Fisher College.
 
Frank says the jewelry business has evolved since the 1980s.
 
"You have the mass commercialization of the industry and a lot more big chain stores to compete with now," he says. "Then there's the Internet and the increased price of gold we've had to adjust to."
 
Jerry's Jewelers has adapted by embracing Internet sales and promotion through its own website and social media sites like Facebook. The store also focuses on metals like tungsten and titanium as an alternative to gold.
 
As the store celebrates 50 years, Gerardo says his main strategy for success has not changed.
 
"I've always emphasized service, service, service," he says. "I've created a lot of goodwill over the years. Even people who have moved away from the area still come here when they visit to buy their jewelry. I don't know if it's my charm or what."
 
Frank now directs the operations of Jerry's Jewelers, but Gerardo is likely to be there almost every day.
 
"I can't just stay at home in front of the tube, becoming a zombie," he says. "I like being here. Besides, I'm 75 years old. Where am I going to go, anyway?"

Small Business is a weekly feature focusing on entrepreneurs. Send suggestions for future Small Business stories to Associate Editor Smriti Jacob at sjacob@rbj.net.

11/30/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


11/30/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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