With COVID-19 making it difficult to gather during the 2020 holiday season, Katherine Cotterill, longtime manager of independent jewelry and gem boutique EAT Gallery in Maysville, Ky., recalls the pressure being off when it came to planning events and other delights for customers.
The 2021 holiday season, in contrast, “feels very stressful,” she says. Even though Maysville, a town of roughly 8,000 people, is currently seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, “I think people expect more from businesses,” she says. “It’s weird because last year we had seven or eight COVID-19 cases in town, and we all were shut down. Right now we have close to 250 cases—it’s everywhere.”
EAT Gallery’s holiday calendar is usually full of trunk shows, parties where champagne and artisanal hors d’oeuvres fuel robust sales and genuine good times. Two shows are still on the books for the upcoming season—pearl brand Mastoloni and custom jeweler Meg Caroll (a.k.a. Meg C.) will visit. But Cotterill says she’s hesitant to buy plane tickets for designers “when we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The good news is that EAT’s sales have been up significantly since the 2020 lockdowns began. “Sales have been good all year, and this summer we were insanely busy,” Cotterill says. “Even more interesting is that people are spending more. Instead of spending $200 they’re spending $1,200. So yeah, I’m going to be buying some stuff for the holidays!”
Here’s how else she’s preparing for the year’s busiest sales season:
“We do so well with pearls in the store, so my plan is to load up on pearl jewelry and pearl strands—the funky-weird stuff and the classic stuff. Pearls are our jam. Then the rest of the inventory is [composed of] classic pieces. Sapphire rings and diamonds-by-the-yard and other classic things fly out of the store. We’ve also seen people invest more in bigger and more expensive stones since COVID-19 started. Right now people are just like ‘I’m going to treat myself.’
“The other big thing I’m pushing this holiday is custom jewelry. It’s the bulk of our business, so I’m preparing for that. We don’t have to worry about having enough colored stones in stock [EAT Gallery is owned by gem dealer Mayer & Watt, so it has a direct pipeline to incredible gemstones]. But some of our jewelers are behind on things, so it’s a question of figuring out who can make what and by when. For basic things like a pair of stud earrings, we rely on Stuller all day, every day.”
“We always decorate the store for the holidays and I actually always force my mother, Debra Cotterill, to do it! She’s amazing at decorating and I pay her in jewelry. She will do a creamy colored palette—off white and gold. And she makes these beautiful big bows that tie around the bases of our black showcases. They just look really cute. I don’t like fake greenery so we do all-real greenery in the front of the store every year.”
“I don’t like sales, but I do like to do giveaways around the holidays, so I’ll plan those for this year, too. It’s funny—we’ve had customers who’ve talked about custom and it’s almost like they’re afraid of the whole process. So I like to give away loose stones, because then they’re kind of forced to come in and find out that custom isn’t so scary. I’m giving away a Montana sapphire this month.
“I don’t do social media as much as I should, probably. But if there’s something going on, I send handwritten notes, postcards, and I call people. That’s what I’ll do with trunk shows this holiday. I also send handwritten thank you cards. People really do love those old, nice things.”