Cheryl B. Stark, Margery Meltzer Count 40 Years
By MAX HART
The silver and gold still sparkles in the afternoon sun like it did that summer in 1966, when the young college student from Boston with long blond hair stepped off the ferry, walked into Vineyard Haven and began selling her handmade jewelry on the Island for the first time.
The smile that welcomed customers into her first store on Water street in 1969 is still there, too, as is the sharp humor that greeted visitors to the Main street shop she opened 17 years later. And of course Margery Meltzer, her partner, is always around, right where she has been for 34 years.
The only thing that has changed for Cheryl Barbara Stark, it seems, is her sign.
"When we went to a new design, I was afraid people might not know where we went," Ms. Stark said on a recent afternoon outside her Vineyard Haven store. She was noting that the store - known for decades as C.B. Stark Jewelers - now greets customers with a sleek, modern Stark written in cursive.
"But I know our customers still know where we are," she added.
As well they should. This summer marks the 40th anniversary of Ms. Stark's business on the Vineyard. She started off selling her jewelry in the old Island Crafts Center in Vineyard Haven, having come from the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston to teach jewelry making for the summer. Who knew back then, when she was just a 20-year-old student, that she would become an Island institution?
"There is a record of integrity here and a history of loyalty among our customers, and I think that is what we are most proud of. I mean, how else do you stay in business so long?" Ms. Stark said. "I get people all the time coming back and saying the piece they bought from me 30 years ago is still their favorite piece of jewelry. That loyalty and trust in us is what we really appreciate above anything else."
Speaking from the back room of the store that has become a staple of the Tisbury business community, Ms. Stark and Ms. Meltzer reflected on four decades of living and working on the Island. Forty years of memories come easy for this indelible couple, who met in 1972. Ms. Meltzer became Ms. Stark's apprentice, and they have been together ever since.
The two remember all the old buildings and names from the past. Ms. Stark recalled setting up shop in 1969 in a small garage on Water street, across from the old Harborlight, which was next to the old A & P. (Now the old garage is known by millions as the Black Dog Bakery.)
"I remember Katharine Cornell driving up to the Water street shop and buying something, and people literally on their death beds being brought in by ambulance to buy final gifts for their loved ones," Ms. Stark said. "The Island community has just been amazing."
Like most Island artists who have had to scrape together a living on the Vineyard, Ms. Stark has held numerous jobs. She remembers cold mornings on the water as a scalloper and long days building houses as a carpenter. Both women have been waitresses and house painters, getting through the winter to make it to spring, when they would reopen the jewelry store and hope for a busy summer.
"This was not really a year-round community back then," Ms. Stark said with a chuckle. "We did whatever we had to to survive. I helped build the Black Dog Tavern. Back then, selling jewelry wasn't really as glamorous as it is now."
Compared to their changes in lifestyle (the couple now owns a home in West Tisbury and another in Sarasota, Fla.), change is fairly subtle in the gem and jewelry business. There are still the diamond rings, the wampum necklaces and the pearl earrings. The precious metals still shine and gleam, although the emergence of brushed platinum as a preferred metal has reduced the glare in the display cases significantly.
And there are always the charm bracelets.
"That is our signature piece," Ms. Stark said. "People have been collecting new pieces for as long as we have been making them."
Ms. Stark's charms are her most sought after pieces, and they can be found in jewelry boxes around the country. There are the familiar town signs, ferries and of course her signature bunch of grapes. She has made charms of the Tabernacle, the Gay Head Lighthouse and Alley's General Store along with bluefish and black dogs.
Ms. Stark also still does a lot of repair work and custom fitting for stones and gems. And as the Vineyard has become one of the premiere wedding destinations in the world (second most popular behind Las Vegas, Nev., according to Ms. Stark), their wedding ring and band business has risen considerably.
The real change in the business can be found in the increased size and scope of the operation. Ms. Stark and Ms. Meltzer now employ several full-time employees, including store managers and silversmiths, which allows them more time for designing.
"She's the schmoozer, and I am the detail person," Ms. Meltzer said with a laugh.
Pressed to answer whether anything has changed in 40 years, Ms. Stark and Ms. Meltzer point to the old Island customers who were once a mainstay of the business.
"You get people coming in here now that have less of a connection to the Island and want to collect things, because they think that is what they should do," Ms. Stark said.
Ms. Meltzer interjected: "Is that a negative? No, it is just different from the days when we knew most of our customers, and they were buying engagement rings or having a piece of wampum wrapped for a necklace. But we have never taken our business for granted, and we still pay the same attention to those who buy a $10 item or a $10,000 piece."
"I think what is probably the coolest thing for me is we are now selling jewelry to a third generation of Islanders who have been customers at this store," Ms. Stark said. "To see the store grow so much over the years and serve the same families I sold to a long time ago is really wonderful."
She paused, then reached out to play with Ms. Meltzer's salt and pepper hair. "Look at all that grey," she said with a laugh. "Some things have changed."
Pictures by Peter Simon