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After hitchhiking his way to San Diego from Michigan in the 1970s, Gary Gilmore started doing leatherwork with a local guild. As he puts it, this was “back in the days when people wore the fringe jackets and girls wore flower purses with designs on them.”
Some of the other guys he worked with were doing a small amount of jewelry work. Gilmore wanted in.
“I knew leather was a fad, but the jewelry was forever — always had been, always will be,” he says.
He started with silver turquoise jewelry, but quickly transitioned to gold. He sold his first piece, a small diamond pendant and was hooked.
Today, Gilmore owns his own shop on Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach. He’s been making jewelry for more than 30 years, including a wedding band he sold to Carl Weidetz, owner of Ocean Beach Hardware.
I photographed Carl last week and asked him some questions about his life that led me to Gary. After our interview, I asked Gary questions that will lead me to next week’s installation of the project.
Name: Gary Gilmore
Part of town: Point Loma
What’s the distinction between being a jeweler and being a goldsmith?
A goldsmith actually makes things with his hands. A jeweler pretty much finds different wholesalers, buys jewelry from a wholesaler, puts it in a showcase and sells it to the public. I design it and make it myself.
How did you meet Carl?
Well, he owns the hardware store — just by going there for picking up things. And then when I became a merchant, there’s a certain camaraderie amongst merchants. We just hit it off and he’s a good guy to talk to. When I’d have difficulties with projects, I could talk to him and he’d give me guidance.
I understand he bought a wedding band from you.
Yeah, he did. As a matter of fact, about once a year, he comes in here and very carefully selects something for his wife. He’s very meticulous and very precise about what he wants.
What is the marketplace like right now for being a goldsmith?
Oh, it’s tough right now. When the recession hit — a lot of my customers live off their investments — and they saw their investments drop by 33 to 50 percent, and so, obviously one of the first things you’re going to cut back on is luxury spending. So, my business has dropped significantly since things fell apart in late 2008. And I see them ever so slowly just creeping back. The way of doing business in the past was you open your door, people come in the door and you take orders. It’s not that easy anymore. Now, if something interesting comes in, you know a customer who likes a certain type of stone, a certain shape stone, you give them a call, have them come in, do some drawings for them. You have to be much more active about getting customers in the door, being a lot more personal.
So in the boom days, it was very passive?
In the boom days you just open the doors and they just came in.
Has your name ever caused you trouble?
(Laughs) I thought you were young enough that you wouldn’t remember that. Yeah, there was that Gary Gilmore back in Utah in 1978 who was executed, right (Gilmore was actually executed in 1977). And, I got ribbed a lot for that. In fact, I was opening up my first shop about the same time he was getting executed. And, yeah, it caused a lot of snickers and a lot of laughs. But name recognition is huge. Now, what I get is people coming into the store saying, “you know what, I’ve heard your name before, you must be good.” And so, yeah, because of name recognition, at least people remember the name.
His thing was, he killed two people and they sentenced him to death. Most people who were sentenced to death, they appeal their sentence. He didn’t. He said, ‘Go ahead and execute me.’ Well that blew everybody away, because they hadn’t executed anybody in the United States for years. And when he said, “Go ahead and execute me,” that opened up the door for a whole bunch of other executions.
So, it got a lot of press.
The jewelry business, I can imagine, there are a lot of concerns about safety. How do you mitigate that?
Safety’s always a concern. You hope for the best. I don’t keep a bunch of high-end watches in my showcase. Also, if you’re a thief, and you hit a place, you want to be able to get out of there real fast. And it’s not easy to just zoom out of Ocean Beach.
You’ve never had a problem?
Yes. The day the first Persian Gulf war started, I got a phone call around 10 o’clock at night: “Mr. Gilmore, your alarm’s going off.” I came down and there were some cops out back. They said, “We hear somebody inside your store kicking boxes around.”
The biggest box I have is a ring box. So, I thought, OK, I’ll wait. Another cop came with a dog. The cop opened up the back door, the dog went running inside the shop, started barking like crazy. The cops went in and started laughing like crazy, laughing hard. I went in and in my bathroom, there’s a vent. And there were a pair of legs dangling from my vent.
This guy had tried to pull the cap off the vent on the roof, slid down the vent, trying to get into the shop, because the front and back door are locked up of course. This guy gets to the very base of the vent and at the base of the vent is a fan. He got stuck in the fan — couldn’t go up, couldn’t go down. And the vent itself was wired. So even before he hit the ground, he had been detected.
The fire department came here and pulled the guy out. Channel 8 came, Channel 10 came, Channel 39 came, the Tribune came. They took footage, they did an article and it hit the papers that Wednesday and Thursday. That Saturday, I did business like the day before Christmas. It was the best thing that ever happened to my business.
— Interview conducted and edited by SAM HODGSON