George Saad (left) assists Klee McKeown and her grandmother Kasey Balco on June 23, while Tohotmoss Attieh helps a customer in the background. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

In a digital age obsessed by appearing luxurious, with BVLGARI watches flashed in magazine ads, rappers showing off necklaces worth more than your annual paycheck in music videos, and influencers hawking earrings of questionable provenance on Instagram, it can be easy to forget how integral a jewelry shop can be to the life of a small town.

But with the announcement that owners of Scotts Valley Jewelers, Kriss and George Saad, would be retiring later this year, this point was driven home for many in Santa Cruz County—and beyond.

“It’s always been an amazing environment,” said 22-year-old Santa Cruz resident Klee McKeown, who came into the store with her grandmother on the afternoon of June 23. “They treat you like their family.”

McKeown says she appreciates how the Saads will recognize your face even if you’re an infrequent customer. Her grandmother’s been coming here for years, and McKeown has a blue sapphire, ruby and gold necklace from the store she treasures.

The Saads built such a loyal customer base because they’ve never taken this role for granted.

“They’re trusting us with their most precious moments of their lives,” Kriss said, in between buzzing people into the showroom at Scotts Valley Square Shopping Center. “We’ve gone to quinceañeras, funerals and weddings.”

Kriss Saad has been working with some of the same clients since she began selling jewelry in San Jose in 1979. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

Kriss notes she’s been working with some of the same clients since they began selling jewelry in San Jose in 1979, piercing ears and attending baptisms. She recalled one particular husband and wife who, at first, just needed an anniversary ring.

“As time went by, their kids grew older and came and bought engagement rings from us,” she said. “The parents passed away; I went to their funerals.”

Now, they serve the third generation with their expertise.

Mistyn Block, a Santa Cruz High School teacher, says she likes that the couple is so down-to-earth.

“I buy various things from them,” she said. “They became friends over the years.”

Kriss grew up in a family involved in the wholesale jewelry manufacturing business in Southern California. She married George at age 18 and they decided to move to Northern California.

“We both ended up working for high-end jewelry companies, and then we decided to start our own business,” she said. “We opened our first business in San Jose in a mall.”

It was a pretty tough slog.

“We got hit by the earthquake and then we got hit by the recession,” she said. “We struggled a lot in San Jose.”

Because they were in the Eastridge Center, they followed the opening hours of the big retailers, working opposite shifts—including 7am-11pm on holidays.

They had four children and decided they wanted to raise them in a quieter place where they could have a better quality of life. A friend told them about Scotts Valley, and so they decided to have a look.

Jewelry on display at Scotts Valley Jewelers. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

George and Kriss would drive over the hill for a year for coffee, to consider whether setting up shop in town was the right move.

“This is the place I want to live and raise my children,” Kriss decided. “In June of ‘96 we signed the lease here.”

She remembers how they were welcomed with open arms, immediately.

“Our kids thanked us,” she said, noting they enrolled their children in San Lorenzo Valley Elementary School. “We’ve been very blessed. The school was great. The neighborhoods are awesome. The community where we work here, the support has been incredible.”

But what about the growing pains in Scotts Valley? If there were any, they’ve been lost to the annals of time.

“It was all wonderful—seriously wonderful,” she said. “We had a much lower anxiety level. We didn’t have to worry about bad checks bouncing or grab-and-runs. It was just completely different.”

They’ve even adorned people walking the halls of power with their gems.

When asked if she’s ever shopped at the business, City Councilmember Donna Lind immediately reaches for her neck and her ears.

“Oh my gosh, yeah,” she said, pointing to sapphire and diamond pieces, and lauding the Saads for their contributions to the Fallen Officer Foundation and the Scotts Valley Chamber of Commerce—among other causes. “They’ve been very supportive.”

Scotts Valley Jewelers has been in the same premises—a former bank—the whole time.

Kriss remembers their first promotion—an ad in the Valley Press offering battery repair for the fantastic price of just 99 cents. It worked, and even brought in a famous writer who paid with a dollar bill she hung on her wall for years. Though he passed away, his daughter ended up buying from them for two decades.

A retirement sale sign hangs outside Scotts Valley Jewelers. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

Another familiar face comes in.

“The church meeting’s down at that end,” Kriss jokes, as the shopper makes their way toward the man behind the counter at the back of the room—her brother Tohotmoss “Thomas” Attieh.

Last year, Kriss had major surgery and Attieh temporarily took the reins.

With their lease up in September, and a major rent increase being demanded in the wake of a facelift of the Target-anchored plaza, Kriss decided to let her brother take the mantle.

“And he’s just as kind,” said McKeown’s grandmother Kasey Balco, who’d caught a whiff of conversation, in-passing.

McKeown said she loves how they give you a special little jewelry box so you have a safe place to keep your valuables.

“You wear it for special occasions,” she said, thinking of her necklace. “I put it away every time.”

Kriss, touched by the exchange, decides to give the young lady an extra discount—beyond the 20-70%-off sale already underway.

Longtime Scotts Valley resident Meri Fitzgerald arrives with her husband Frank in-tow. She says she likes to shop here because she trusts them.

“It’s in my best interest,” she said, noting they’re here to pick up Frank’s wedding ring (bought somewhere else), which they’d brought in for repairs after diamonds began to slip off. “And they’re good-sized diamonds.”

The giant retirement sale sign outside had caught their eyes, too.

“We came in to see what’s going on,” he said. “It’s like friendship here.”

Tohotmoss “Thomas” Attieh is ready to take the reins from his sister and her husband at Scotts Valley Jewelers. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

When asked what lies ahead, Attieh had a quick response.

“Mostly I’m looking forward to getting rid of my sister over here,” he jokes. “Shove her out.”

After 47 years in the business, managing stores all the way from San Diego to Sacramento, he can’t wait to run his own show.

“I’ve worked here before in this store, about 20 years ago, and I’m very excited to come back into the community,” he said. “It just feels warmer and safer than the big cities right now.”

He’s trying to gain a better understanding of exactly what the Scotts Valley market wants to see from a full-service jewelry company, so they don’t have to drive to Santa Cruz or over to San Jose.

“There’s money in Scotts Valley, and they want to shop locally,” he said. “They don’t want to shop at the big corporate.”

Attieh’s already made some adjustments. For example, at first he would show up for work wearing a suit and tie.

“I just felt overdressed,” he said, in his Polo sweater, jeans and dress shoes.

He’s sold multiple Rolexes already, and he’s noticed shoppers tend to gravitate toward high-end items that aren’t necessarily too flashy.

“There’s a lot of potential in this store,” he said, thinking of the legacy his sister and her husband are leaving behind. “They’ve put too much into this, here, to let it go. And it’s time for me. After managing stores for 40 years, it’s time to be my own boss.”

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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