July 1, 2022
Kristen’s Coin and Jewelry
DEFINITION: extremely interesting.
Kristen’s Coin and Jewelry is not just a store. It’s an experience. Think part Fifth Avenue, part antique store, part jewelry design gallery and part coin museum.
Once you get past the initial “wow” over the Tiffany’s New York interior (crystal chandeliers, marble-inspired floors, plush fireplace seating areas), you realize that everything that glitters isn’t gold. There’s estate jewelry, platinum, and so many other fantastic choices. There are antique coins, plenty of them, with some dating back to pre-Civil War. On a given day, diamonds arrive from across the globe. Family heirloom watches are being repaired while one-of-a-kind pieces are being formed from old and new gems. All invite a closer look, but more importantly, they invite connections and conversation.
The store literally has something for everyone, from popular brands of casual jewelry to antiques and high-end modern diamonds. Custom rings can be made at Kristen’s, with some customers combining estate or family pieces and others building a creation from scratch. The store can make, modify, remake, redo or enhance any ring. “We can do anything,” says Larry Hadley, Kristen’s Coin and Jewelry store manager, “and that’s one reason the store is so successful. Kristen doesn’t conform to franchise thinking; she curates the inventory and sets her own prices, too.”
Yes, there is a Kristen. She is Kristen (Rostock) Hovey, and she grew up in St. Joseph and remains a lifelong resident. A 1993 St. Joseph high school graduate, she began by purchasing a small local store in her teens from her aunt, which was more of a collectibles store. Soon she added jewelry, launching a glittery path to offering one of the region’s most extensive and most-loved jewelers for many longtime customers. Kristen is, as Hadley says, “a true local.” She attends functions and events, and makes herself available to her customers around the clock.
The customer base is generational and part of many circle of life events. “People say ‘We always get our rings from Kristen’s,’ and they mean it,” says Hadley. “Our community is set up in a way to help the store thrive. People stay in the area across families and generations, and they are loyal. We have seen two or three generations of the same family coming in to buy rings and other pieces across different milestones.”
Kristen travels to estate sales with a discerning and skilled eye for previously-loved jewelry pieces. If it’s valuable or interesting, the store will refurbish it. There are estate vendors and specialized websites, too, and customers bring in their own interesting estate finds, including old diamonds. These pieces can be refurbished or remade to customers’ unique requests.
The atmosphere and design concept at Kristen’s was created by Kristen herself, with that uber-classy New York feel, but within, a friendly, local state of mind. It remains one of the largest in the region, and features inventory like Kendra Scott, Pandora or Mariana – so inventory ranges from $50 pieces all the way up to $100,000 rings.
Inventory is also curated from Chicago, or sometimes shipped to St. Joseph from Sydney, Australia, and basically purchased from all over the world, says Hadley. “We receive diamonds from across the world almost every day.”
“If we don’t have it, it’s really hard to find. We have everything here. Most all of our pieces are different, from our gemstones to our diamonds,” says Hadley. “The kids want a rock. It’s up to us to make what they want available.”
Sure, there are the diamonds and gemstones, but estate jewelry has been a staple inventory item for years. “Kids today like modern ‘bling,’ and some don’t care for the estate stuff. But there are others who make a beeline to the estate collection.”
A person could linger for hours exploring the treasures on the main floor. But most days, a distinct group of Kristen’s customers takes a hard left once entering the ornate wooden door. They aren’t distracted by any of the super shiny things. They know what they want. It’s the coin store/coin museum. This is a separate area inside Kristen’s, featuring antique bookshelves, scales and a very fancy National Cash Register.
Coining: Calling all the Curious
Gary Guyer, one of the three uncommon characters at the Kristen’s coin shop, has been “coining” for more than 60 years. He was collecting even through his time in the U.S Air Force, where he retired in 1992 as a Master Sergeant out of Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Guyer also retired from a second career in the prison system.
But when it comes to coining, there are coin books and online guides. And then there’s Gary. (And Kenny Canter and Bob Bidding, who also occupy the seat of knowledge at the coin shop.)
“You should do your research, but then come in. I’ll tell you the truth on what we have and don’t have,” says Guyer.
Not only does Guyer know the coins and the currency, he knows the Kristen’s store and the brand. He started coming into Kristen’s years ago, buying pieces from Kristen herself. Now it’s his part-time job, of which he applies full-time knowledge and humor.
“Everybody thinks they have the $1 million coin. It’s easy to become a coin adrenaline junky. I know I’ve been one,” he says. “We are hunters. We go out and seek. It’s challenging. It gets in the blood of the newbies who don’t know what they’re doing and the serious collectors, too.”
Growing up in St. Joseph, Guyer says there were four or five active coin shops. “It was really neat to go in and look, find out what they didn’t have, and try to go find it,” he says. “St. Joseph is an old town, so people were then – and still are – always finding coins and currency. They find things when they remodel an old home, in the walls or in the yard. In area fields. Or really, anywhere. Just the history alone gives these pieces value.”
The cases at Kristen’s have Civil War era coins and currency, including a $50 bill from 1873 and a $3 bill from Jefferson City, dated 1862. There’s a Bank of New Orleans paper currency on display and a Confederate $100 bill paper “loan,” authorized by Congress in 1863. Other items connect to St. Joseph’s past, like paper pieces from the early St. Joseph Railway and Light, Heat and Power.
Guyer leans back in an antique chair and rubs his beard when asked what is the most unique thing he has at the Kristen’s coin shop. After a minute, he responds. “I can’t say. Everything is unique in its own way. All of it.”
In this philosophy, Guyer and his comrades try to educate guests and encourage them to have rare pieces rated professionally, like professional grading companies, for the absolute standard in authenticity. He will help where he can, but recognizes that sometimes Kristen’s may be just the starting point.
Kristen’s has an X-ray available on-site to help avoid customers being “bamboozled,” says Gary. This is especially important when the big finds come in, like an 1806 Flowing Hair Half Dollar, brought into Kristen’s on a random Tuesday. “In my coining life, I’ve only seen maybe 25 and only owned two or three. It has a sparkle to it. It’s so cool.”
“St. Joseph is special in terms of finding unique things and people being generous to share their knowledge and experiences,” says Guyer. “We want people to come in and look, learn and ask questions. Just be curious. And to kids I say, know your history. It will not let you down.”
For Guyer, it never gets old. He never knows what a day will bring, including incredibly intricate (and heart-breaking) counterfeit pieces or Confederate money found in an old coffee can. “I always wonder ‘who may have held that coin?’” he says. “It could have been in the hands of a President to a soldier to anyone.”
It’s this constant curiosity that ties together collectors across the city from every skill level and generation. “They come in and they see this space we have, and it’s a whole new coining world. And their interest starts all over again.”
Like many collectors, Guyer is a keeper. He usually doesn’t want to sell, even though Kristen’s does buy and sell often. “I think the stories, the wisdom and the truth behind the coins and currency are the inheritance I can pass down to my grandson,” he says. “It’s not about the money. It never was.”
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