DAYTONA BEACH — As a young man at the dawn of the 1970s, Allan Brewer had dreams of traveling the world as a commercial airline pilot, a goal that inspired him to move from his family’s home in Baltimore to study at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Instead, he fell in love with Daytona Beach.
In 1975, Brewer helped his family move their successful jewelry business to the “World’s Most Famous Beach.” More than 45 years later, Brewer and his mother, Chris Evans, still showcase diamonds, gold, antique and period treasures at Evans & Son Fine Jewelers, a Beach Street fixture for decades.
“I always believed in Daytona Beach, for over 50 years now,” said Brewer, 68, seated behind a glass display case filled with gleaming bracelets, rings and other unique trinkets. “I always loved downtown. I always felt that it was an iconic place waiting to happen.”
And although Brewer changed course from his pilot aspirations, the jewelry business also has taken the family all over the world in search of unique pieces from Shanghai, London, Paris, Milan, Rome and Tibet, as well as gem dealer shows in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami.
“Our inventory spans the 1800s through the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, right up to modern things,” Brewer said. “It’s all unique and hand-picked, which is almost a lost art now. It’s labor intensive to pick out the few things that fit into our look.”
Entering the cozy shop, in a two-story building the family owns at 250 S. Beach Street, is like stepping into a time capsule. The shop moved to Beach Street in 1983, after its initial years nearby on U.S. Highway 92.
Big-band music of the 1940s offers quiet accompaniment that complements the inventory of antique and period pieces representing Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Retro eras from the 1800s to the 1940s.
“I always loved vintage things, whether it’s design, furniture, rugs or jewelry,” Brewer said. “We always loved that vintage feel.”
Behind the counter, Brewer’s mother beckons a visitor to examine a small Japanese Art Nouveau mirror, running her fingers around the gently curved edges to point out a floral design.
“This is from the 1920s,” she said. “It’s fabulous.”
‘Something that’s handmade’
At 90, Evans is still a kinetic presence, a gregarious talker about anything from diamonds and gold to the experiences that the business has opened to her.
On a nearby table, a Czechoslovakian table lamp from the 1930s emits a soft glow through glass intricately shaped into the design of a brightly colored bird sitting amid clusters of grape vines.
For Evans, the piece is a link to her connection with famed designer and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, who used to shop at Evans’ booth at jewelry shows in New York.
“She was a collector of lamps and she said, ‘Oh Chris, if you ever get one of those lamps, I want one,’” Evans said. In the back of the shop, Evans keeps a treasured memento: Vanderbilt’s hand-written note offering the address to her New York apartment, where they visited from time to time.
“That’s how I met Gloria; she came to the booth,” Evans said. “She was the nicest woman; she was amazing.”
A moment later, she’s pointing out another favorite piece in a display case, an ivory and coral charm bracelet made in the 1940s. She puts it on her wrist for a moment, where it competes for attention with roughly a dozen gold bracelets already there.
“I don’t like just one little thing,” she said, chuckling.
Although the shop does handle its share of big-ticket “six-figure” items, there’s an emphasis on offering unique pieces starting as low as $25 or $50, Brewer said.
“If you spend $50 on something from Tibet, for instance, it will be something that’s handmade that you can’t find anywhere else,” Brewer said, “something that we’ve traveled hundreds of miles to obtain.”
Made Just Right:Sun Viking Lodge celebrates 50 years in Daytona Beach Shores
‘Something special for you’
That approach has earned the loyalty of customers such as Jeroen Reidel, 47, a management consultant from Ormond Beach.
Reidel has been shopping at Evans & Son for nearly 20 years, since making his first major purchase of a Rolex watch there.
“They are both very welcoming,” he said of the mother-and-son duo. ”They always walked me through every step of the process.”
About two years ago, Reidel approached Brewer with a tall order: Replacing a custom bracelet that his father had given him many years ago.
“It was a two-toned yellow and white gold bracelet,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was stolen and for years I had been looking for something similar. I could never find it. I described it to Al and he called me up a month later and said, ‘I have something special for you.’
“He had a custom jeweler in New York that recreated the bracelet that my father gave me. It was completely spot-on and probably something no other jewelry store in town could match.”
For Bonnie Roberts, another longtime customer, a purchase from Evans & Son has become a ritual for major family milestones.
The list includes her engagement ring, her husband’s wedding band and a set of pearl and diamond earrings that their daughter wore at her wedding, Roberts said.
“So it’s a bit of a tradition,” said Roberts, who lives in Port Orange with her husband Kevin Molzahn. “Over the years, we’ve bought a number of pieces from Al. I love a lot of the unusual pieces that they bring into the shop.”
Another customer, Bonnie Hosey, of New Smyrna Beach, has bought everything from wedding rings to earrings for her daughter’s 16th birthday at the shop over the past two decades.
“It’s a lot of fun when you go in there,” said Hosey, 58. “There are always things to look at.”
In the wake of the city’s $4 million streetscape project on Beach Street and the reopening of the Orange Avenue bridge after its $47 million renovation, Brewer said that he is seeing more locals in the shop.
“Today, seven out of 10 customers are locals and it used to be the other way around,” he said. “The combination of the bridge opening and the new wider sidewalk and the park that’s coming is all having an immediate effect.”
Brewer envisions Evans & Sons enduring to enjoy a business revival on Beach Street.
“You have to find your own niche, your own working model of what your passion is, and then hope your customers want to be a part of it,” Brewer said.
“We love being surrounded by design and art and beautiful things constantly, and the depth of knowledge that it takes to be in that world. The bonus is that we had friends, neighbors and customers who wanted to go on that journey with us.”
When Evans & Son Fine Jewelers opened its doors in 1975, here’s a snapshot of what else was happening in the world:
The Vietnam War ended as Communist forces took Saigon and South Vietnam surrendered unconditionally.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, the blockbuster film “Jaws” had its theatrical release in June.
General Francisco Franco, the dictatorial leader of Spain, died at the age of 82.
Newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was found in a San Francisco apartment and arrested for armed robbery. She had been kidnapped a year earlier by members of the leftist Symbionese Liberation Army.
NASA launched the first joint United States and Soviet Union space flight.
Ex-Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa disappears, never to be seen again.
Bruce Springsteen released his third album, “Born To Run,” propelling him to mainstream stardom.
“Saturday Night Live” debuted on NBC.
What: Evans & Son Fine Jewelry
Where: 250 S. Beach St., Daytona Beach
Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Made Just Right: About this series
The Daytona Beach News-Journal is spotlighting area businesses that have been around long enough to be an important part of our collective history. If you are the owner of a business that has been in operation for at least 25 years, or if you want to nominate a business for recognition, please contact reporter Jim Abbott at firstname.lastname@example.org Be sure to include your name, phone number and a little bit about the history of the business.