After working at Crawford Jewelers in Peoria for two decades, Tom Potter and Gus Anderson learned that its owner, Charles Crawford, was planning to retire. The two men decided to go into business together, opening their own store, Potter & Anderson Jewelers, on August 5, 1928, just one year before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. “Had they known what would happen in 1929, I don’t know that they would have opened in 1928!” suggests Curt Stubbs, Anderson’s grandson and current owner of the long-running store. But by continually offering high-quality merchandise and exceptional customer service, the company has been able to overcome numerous setbacks through the years.
Standing the Test of Time
Even during the Great Depression, the jewelry store, then located on Fulton Street in downtown Peoria, did alright, said Curt. “It’s kind of funny,” he continued. “You would think that jewelry wouldn’t do well at all when times are hard…But guys were always setting a little money aside, and they would come in and buy something for their wives for Christmas. It actually meant more than anything else they could have done.”
After surviving the Depression, Potter & Anderson would have its mettle tested again, this time by not one, but two fires. The original storefront on Fulton Street shared a building with a bowling alley near the Lyceum Theatre, and in 1962, a hot plate in the bowling alley set fire to the building, forcing Potter & Anderson to temporarily relocate. Repairs were made, and the store returned to its original location, but not for long. In 1970, the phone company bought out the entire block, which led the company to make a move.
After finding a new home on Main Street, the jewelry store sustained a second fire in 1986 when a busboy at the neighboring steakhouse unknowingly wrapped up a candle in a dirty tablecloth and tossed it into the laundry bin. The store then moved to the corner of Hamilton and Jefferson streets, but by that time, said Curt, people weren’t shopping downtown as much, and Potter & Anderson was losing customers. So in 1994, the decision was made to move the store to its current location on Sheridan Road, where they’ve been ever since.
That Potter & Anderson has remained under single-family ownership since 1928 is something in which Curt Stubbs takes great pride. After Tom Potter passed away, although none of his family remained involved in the business, Gus Anderson decided to carry on, keeping the name of the business intact.
When Curt’s father, Frank Stubbs, was young, he enrolled in the horological school at Bradley University and learned the skills of watch making and hand engraving. He worked at Potter & Anderson during the summers, which is where he met Gus’ daughter, Robby Anderson. The couple married and had two children, one daughter who went to college in Colorado and never came back, and one son who took over the family business.
Curt said he more or less grew up in the store, cleaning silver and doing other odd jobs. “I did the college thing for a couple of years, and then went to the Gemological Institute of America in California and came back to begin working for the jewelry store full-time in 1976.” His wife, Brenda, signed on as well, and now handles the financial side of the business.
Since they opened more than 80 years ago, the store has carried only the highest-quality jewelry and gift items. The family’s conscious decision to focus on the quality of its merchandise rather than flashy expansion plans has built them a clientele of loyal customers and allowed them to keep on top of current styles.
In the early years, for instance, silver was extremely popular. The walls of Potter & Anderson were lined with numerous silver patterns, and brides would come in and register for silver pieces. Today, the store hardly sells any silver at all. “We’ve evolved the gift side of the business as tastes have evolved,” said Curt.
“We’ve always been focused on the quality of [the jewelry] itself, and the quality of our service,” he explained, noting that Potter & Anderson is a bit different from the jewelry stores one may see in shopping malls. “It’s [not] a mass-merchandising thing where people come in and say, ‘I want that one,’ and you snap the box shut,” he said. At Potter & Anderson, customers get personal attention and help finding exactly what they’re looking for, and that’s what has kept them coming back for years.
Trusting in Family
In a business that requires an unquestionable level of trust, it’s beneficial to be working with family. And the low level of employee turnover contributes to the family atmosphere as well. Most of the store’s employees have been with the business for over a decade—some more than two decades—and all feel like members of the family, said Curt.
“I think it really comes down to cooperation and trust, and allowing each other to do their own tasks without looking over their shoulder all the time,” he explains. “I think that’s where family businesses get into some problems—when there’s jealousy or not working enough as a team.” He trusts Brenda to take care of the financial side of the business, she trusts him to take care of the gemology side, and neither steps on the other’s toes.
While Curt and Brenda have children, they are not involved in the family business. “To be honest,” said Curt, “the future of small retail is a bit fuzzier than some other careers,” and for that reason, there is not a concrete succession plan just yet. For now, they just enjoy being able to offer customers a one-of-a-kind experience when shopping for a perfect gift for that special someone. iBi