John Laughter Jewelry, which has served the Asheville region for 45 years, will be closing as owner John Laughter looks toward retirement.
“I’ve been on the sales floor for 50 years, including holidays, serving the public,” Laughter said. “Time to close that chapter.”
The jeweler has stores in Asheville and Waynesville. Both are closing as soon as available inventory is liquidated.
The stores started out as Shelley’s Jewelry in 1973 in Hendersonville when Laughter and Keith Shelley first opened. As the businessmen expanded, they opened stores in several mall locations and in Forest City before finally settling on Waynesville and Asheville.
The mall locations where customers preferred lower-priced fashion pieces not offered at Shelleys were faltering, Laughter said, which prompted a move to downtown Waynesville and to the Dingle Creek Shopping Center.
“Our clients are more affluent customers and visitors,” he said. “They understand about classic pieces that will last generations.”
Laughter’s journey into the jewelry business started at age 12 when he was working at a Hendersonville barbershop shining shoes.
Customer Keith Shelley asked Laughter if he wanted to work for him and learn to be a goldsmith. He jumped at the chance, and by age 16, was making plans to own his own store one day.
Laughter said his parents died when he was young. He was living in a foster home when Shelley took him under his wing and “refathered” him.
Laughter said Shelly taught him the values of people, employees and integrity. The two were business partners for 34 years, developing a reputation in the community for superb customer service and high-quality jewelry.
Shelly and Laughter opened a store in downtown Hendersonville in 1973, and tried different locations in malls, Blue Ridge and Forest City before finally settling on Waynesville and Asheville.
After Shelly passed away in 2008, his son, Stan, and Laughter divided the company. At that point, the stores in Asheville and Waynesville were renamed John Laughter Jewelry.
Aside from selling classic, high-quality jewelry, Laughter believes the stores have flourished because of the way the staff treats customers.
“I teach my staff that the lady with the 25-cent plastic trinket is just as important as the lady with the $250,000 diamond,” Laughter said. “They’re both afforded the same dignity. We want this to be a friendly and inviting place.”
Laughter’s business philosophy has been to provide a fair price, and to then be honest about the price.
“I put the price on a piece of jewelry that I need to keep the doors open,” he said. “I never add to the price so that my staff can ‘discount’ it to make you think you are getting a bargain.”
John Laughter Jewelry has long been a family affair, with Laughter’s wife, Camille, handling the business side, while the couple’s son, Grant, is a store manager and the inventory manager.
Laughter believes he has had the best job in the business, working with estate jewelry and deciding how the diamonds and stones can be recut, refitted, reset and repolished. That’s in addition to taking his place on the floor helping customers.
The business involves family in another way. Laughter said he has seen customers’ children become customers, too.
“I have sold engagement rings to a young couple that I sold to their parents and to grandparents,” he said. “I am going to miss the relationships that I have built, customers that I’ve helped since the ‘70s.”
As he makes plans to close, Laughter said one thing he’ll miss is being involved in creating lasting memories for customers.
“I love the emotional connection between jewelry and the memory if creates,” he said. “A 90-year-old customer can come in here and tell me, “I got this from my daddy when I was 13.’ I enjoy that.”
Laughter said he was lucky to find his passion for gold smithing and running a jewelry business early in life.
“I think it was just the good Lord watching over me and giving me this opportunity,” he said.