Joseph Lenardo was looking for a brighter career. He’d been a taxi owner, who queued up outside the PATH station to pick up his fares but longed to own a store. When a jeweler in town was ready to retire, Joseph jumped at the chance, partnering with his friend, Nick Sasso, to rent the shop on River Street.
By 1979 he’d moved to a location at 115 Washington, where his son, Anthony, now owns and operates Hoboken Gold and Diamonds.
Full disclosure. A few years ago I was drawn into the store by a sign in the window that read “We Buy Gold.” It seemed as if I had a bunch of gold jewelry that I never wore. The rings and earrings and bracelets netted me $500, which I thought was a pretty good haul, just for cleaning out my drawers.
A full-service operation, there’s much more to the business than buying gold. Think weddings. Hoboken Gold and Diamonds does a brisk business in diamond engagement rings and gold and platinum wedding bands.
Joseph had also opened shops in Jersey City and Bayonne, but when he died, Anthony wanted to keep only the flagship store in Hoboken.
The shop’s niche is that a master jeweler designs and makes the pieces onsite. “A customer who comes in for an engagement ring is part of the process,” Lenardo says. “It’s a little more personal. They feel like they’re helping to design the ring.”
Back in the day, he says, jewelry was ordered and made somewhere else.
The shop’s master craftsman is a jack of all trades. “He can repair anything,” Lenardo says. “He’s been here 21 years, and he’ll repair your eyeglasses if you need him to.”
If you buy an engagement ring somewhere else (Mon dieu!), Lenardo says, “He’ll size it while you wait, and you can put it on your fiancé’s finger and leave.”
If you’re in the market for an engagement ring, be aware that it’s the diamond, not the gold, that’s the key feature.
The store sells loose diamonds. The customer picks the diamond, which becomes the focal point for the design. The store buys diamonds from wholesalers in New York City, which are certified by GIA, the Gemological Institute of America. Right now, gold is expensive, so diamonds are more important than ever; the store is selling ones as large as three karats.
Even in a bad economy, people still marry and find a way to buy engagement rings and wedding bands, but now that the economy is better, Lenardo says, customers are “looking for better quality and bigger diamonds.”
If you have no intention of getting married, don’t worry. The shop is filled with sparkly baubles: gold and platinum bracelets, chains, necklaces, earrings, watches, and diamond studs, as well as precious stones such as sapphires and rubies.
Much of the merchandise is reasonably priced for folks who just want to dress up for a wedding or other special event.
Despite all the pretty stuff in his store, it’s customer service that keeps Lenardo in business and his customers coming back.
“I like dealing with people,” he says. “Old-time Hoboken people still come here. That’s what keeps you going. At Christmas and Valentine’s, you see familiar faces. And there are also a lot of new customers, so I am meeting new people.”
In the nearly 40 years that the store has been in business, Hoboken has seen a lot of changes. “Washington Street was pretty much boarded up,” he recalls. “It was a completely different town. It was good and fun. Everybody knew each other. The old-time jewelry stores are gone.”
“Customer service is a big part of any business,” Lenardo says. “You keep your customers happy. If someone else doesn’t want to fix it, we’ll do it. You have to do that. Even if it’s a special order, if the customer isn’t happy, we’ll fix it.”
“A lot of people don’t do that,” he says. “I learned from my father to make everybody happy.”—Kate Rounds