Farmington Valley Times Monthly - November 2008
Written By Gregory Hyman
Avon silversmith Richard Parker runs his finger's tip along the clean, sweeping lines of a silver bird pendant, his own design.
Plenty of jewelry shops across the country sell seagull pendants, but Parker chose the tern, another well-known marine bird, for his design because, as he tells it, these sea-birds can fly upwards of 3,000 miles in a single flight - no break for rest or anything.
And by his accounts, the handmade sterling silver jewelry in his Avon store, The Little Silver Shop, has been selling steadily for over 40 years and traveling all around the globe, over equally tremendous distances.
At his workbench in the back of the shop, Parker, a mild, jocular fellow enjoying his golden years, describes the time when, some years ago, a teenaged girl and her mother came by the shop to purchase a souvenir for the girl's upcoming trip to France. That day, the pair walked out of Parkers store with a button bracelet(It's a signature design of Parker's. A silver ornamental ball at one end of the bracelet slips into a neat loop at the other end. These keep the bracelet - made without hinges or other contraptions - snugly in place on the wrist.) Anyway, off the ladies went, delighted with their purchase. A week later, Parker received a call from the girl's mother. Wouldn't you know it, Parker said, the girl was taking in a view from the Eiffel Tower in Paris when someone nearby asked, "Do you happen to be from Avon Connecticut?" Turns out, another tourist had recognized the jewelry as a Richard Parker creation.
Or there was a the time two friends took a snorkeling trip to Aruba. On one particular snorkeling excursion, one of the ladies wore a pair of silver stud earrings from The Little Silver Shops, a gift and good luck charm from her best and oldest friend. So when the other friend found a similar stud in the sand, down near the reef - the found earring had Richard Parker's signature stamp and everything - she naturally asked her friend if she had lost one of her studs. But both earrings were safe and sound, one of each ear. That evening, Parker got a call from the ladies, who ere absolutely awestruck to have found a Parker stud earring in Aruba, many hundreds of miles away from the tiny shop in Avon, Connecticut.
So, the point is, Parkers jewelry, like the tern after which Parker designed his popular pendant, really gets around. And the reason for this , obvious from the moment one steps into the little Avon store, is that the jewelry with which Parker has made his name is affordable, high quality, simple and really quite beautiful.
Parker calls his design style "contemporary Danish," with "clean, sweeping lines and a nice finish." It's a style he has refined and perfected over the years, after he got his start as a silversmith-hobbyist, back in college. First, it was going on walks in the quarries of Massachusetts and Vermont picking up interesting stones, then buffing them to a rich luster back at home. But that got old pretty fast
"So what else could I do?" Parker says.
He took some jewelry-making classes. He began to design simple silver jewelry to accommodate the little stones he collected and polished. And, during his years at Tufts, while all the other guys were out gallivanting, Parker would sit quiet nights his apartment, designing and hand-crafting silver jewelry. He found himself drawn, those days, to making jewelry, and that draw has never changed. Has never diminished, either.
"I'm sitting there making jewelry," Parker says. "and I have the ability to create something that hasn't ever been made before."
So the hobby was self-renewing, always fresh and exciting. Because tomorrow, along with a change in the weather, could bring and entirely different inclination.
"I might decide, "I'll make a pendant today, but something totally different tomorrow," Parker says.
Today, still passionate, still creative as ever, Parker continues to ply the trade he began in the shop he opened on East Main Street in 1961.
That same year, he planted a maple sapling behind the shop. It was, at the same time, just about 5 feet tall, according to Parker. Today, it towers above the shop and boasts a circumference of 6 feet. And while the shop hasn't changed drastically over the years (still just a shopping 56 square feet of prime retail space), business has been steadily booming.
Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and the winter holidays are biggies, in terms of business at The Little Silver Shop. Many a time, Parker has seen a line of patrons snaking out the door of his shop in the weeks prior to Christmas. And Parker's Website had over 600,00 hits last year alone - many from out of state, which explains the strange appearances of his jewelry in the unlikeliest of places.
But, to explain the popularity of this little Avon shop and the sparkling wonders hidden therein? If you haven't already, go take a look for yourself. The pieces are really quite exquisite - most are very simple and delicate-looking - and reasonably priced. Parker says that his goal as a silversmith and businessman has been to "make something that anyone can afford." Even little kids come in with dad and their pennies to get Mother's Day gifts for mom.
And the selection is good, too. Parker says The Little Silver Shop carries over 700 designs - everything from stud and hoop earrings to clasp and cuff bracelets and pendant necklaces. The pieces come in a range of sizes, too - from child to adult. And all Parker's design are crafted from 100-percent sterling silver. They're designed with simplicity in mind, so there are fewer parts to wear out of break. Because durability is something customers of The Little Silver Shop have come to expect.
"People know we stand for quality," Parker says.
With the solid popularity of Parker's jewelry, sure, he could have decided many times over to expand his enterprise and open up shops in other locations. But then, Parker says, the quality would be affected. perhaps selling jewelry in even greater numbers he could lose control over the creation of each piece, wouldn't be able to ensure it's highest quality and durability. And that's not something that Parker is willing to compromise. It's been one of the hallmarks of this trade, of his store, The Little Silver Shop.
With things asa they are, "I have a unique ability to come up with the right mix, in the right style" and ensure the quality of all the jewelry.
What big-name jewelry chain out there can say that?