Local jeweler Steve Neel can remember plying his trade as far back as his pre-teen days. Being raised in and around the family jewelry business undoubtedly rubbed off on him.
“When I was growing up,” Neel recounted, turning the pages back some 40 years, “I was always making models.”
Neel said he honed some of his skills on old traded-in watches.
“I’d go out and take them apart,” Neel said. “It’s just part of my gifting.”
After a seven-year absence from the local retail landscape, the Neel family name is back in business in Palestine.
Steve Neel Jewelers opened in April at 2044 Crockett Rd.
The family has been in the jewelry business for almost a half century.
Following World War II, Neel’s father, Fred, went to Houston Technical College on the G.I. Bill in the mid-to-late 1940s to learn to be a watchmaker.
Fred Neel ultimately opened Southfield Jewelers in Shreveport in 1962.
While Steve was still in high school, the Neels moved from Shreveport to Palestine in 1971, with dad opening up Neel Jewelers that year in the former Kroger Food Store which stood on the block presently occupied by the Anderson County Courthouse Annex.
The family-owned jewelry store moved downtown in 1976 and stayed in business there until closing in 2003.
Six months ago, the family tradition continued with the opening of Steve Neel Jewelers.
Calling it a “blessing to be your own boss,” Steve Neel and his three employees (Charles E. Harris, a certified master bench jeweler; Danette Hinson, who handles the business’ accounting; and Audrey Callaway, who works in sales) aim to provide local and area customers with a personal touch.
“I want to use the old term you’ve heard a thousand years, it’s very personal,” Neel said. “We pay a lot of attention to personal service. We care about our customers.
“We want our customers to be our friends,” he continued. “We want to take a personal interest in our community and our clients.”
Neel, a certified gemologist who was trained at the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica, Calif., and Harris boast a combined “75 years of experience” in the jewelry business.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize what we can do here in house, especially in Mr. Harris’ realm of repairing and making jewelry,” Neel said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize what we’re capable of.”
Over the past three decades, Neel said the jewelry business has remained the same in many areas, while changing in others.
Among the changes is the number of independent jewelry stores operating in smaller cities like Palestine.
At the height of the oil boom during the 1970s, there were eight such stores doing business in Palestine. By Neel’s count, only two such stores operate locally today.
“The internet,” Neel acknowledged, “has changed the way people shop for jewelry.”
Most of his off work time revolves around his family.
Neel and his wife, Marilyn, have two sons, Austin and Jordan, who both attend the University of Texas at Tyler, and daughter, Jenna, who is a sophomore at Elkhart High School.
“We like hanging out together,” Neel said.
Steve Neel Jewelers is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org