Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Avenues Underwood's Closing; Jeweler Blames Struggling Middle Class; Its 3 Larger Stores Thriving

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Avenues Underwood's Closing; Jeweler Blames Struggling Middle Class; Its 3 Larger Stores Thriving

Article excerpt

Byline: Roger Bull

Underwood's is closing its jewelry store in The Avenues mall. It's not large, just 1,100 square feet. And that longtime Jacksonville chain still has its three bigger and much busier stores.

But the store is right in the middle of the mall, on the center court on the lower level.

More significantly, the store is closing, according to its president, because the middle class is going through tough times.

"They're not shopping the same way they did," said C. Clayton Bromberg, "because they don't have the money."

Underwood's hasn't really been a mall operator, closing three stores in local malls in the 1980s and '90s. But it opened The Avenues store six years ago. And now it's closing it.

The company actually dates back to 1928 when Herbert F. Underwood opened a jewelry store in Palatka. It expanded to downtown Jacksonville in 1940 and soon left Palatka.

Bromberg's family, which has been in the jewelry business in Alabama since 1836, bought Underwood's in 1974, and he runs it as a separate business. There were five stores in the 1980s: Downtown, San Marco, Regency Square mall, Orange Park Mall and Roosevelt Mall.

By 1996, downtown and all three mall stores had closed, and Underwood's had settled into the affluent neighborhoods of San Marco, Avondale and Ponte Vedra Beach.

But it ventured back into the mall just a few years later. In late 2009, Carlyle & Co. announced that it was closing all of its jewelry stores across the country, including one in The Avenues.

"They had some of the brands that we carried," Bromberg said, "and it was at the urging of those brands that we signed a six-year lease."

Underwood's opened in the former Carlyle space in 2010 and business grew for the first 4 1/2 years, he said.

"And then it went the other way, very fast," he said. "The other three stores continued to thrive."

The difference, he said, was clear.

"I never want to get political," Bromberg said, "but the last seven years of the Obama administration have been fairly devastating to the middle class of America. …

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