Home Grown: Way-Fil Jewelry celebrates 70 years
TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — Way-Fil Jewelry recently celebrated its 70th year, but current owner Patti Thompson, who bought the business in 1985, has been a part of it for almost 40 years.
Way-Fil Jewelry got its start in Macon by entrepreneurs Wayne Hunter and Filmore McGuire. The two gave the store its moniker by combining the first three letters of their given names.
Hunter bought the name in 1951, and moved the store to Booneville. Hunter opened Way-Fil’s Tupelo location in 1972.
In 1985, Hunter retired, and the store was sold to Thompson, who joined the store in 1979.
“I was hired as a secretary to Mr. Hunter to type his appraisals,” she said with a smile. “I could type 70-80 words a minute, and they needed somebody who could take dictation and type up those appraisals.”
But Thompson obviously went beyond typing appraisals, eventually becoming one of the most sought-after jewelry appraisers in the South.
And she had it in her blood anyway to become a good jeweler.
“My dad was a watchmaker,” she said, “so this was not new to me. It was there.”
She became an apprentice under Hunter, who sold her the store six years after she came aboard. But she didn’t shout out to the world that she had bought it. She didn’t want to change the name, as it was an established brand.
“It was 1985, and you honestly didn’t want to make any changes,” Thompson said. “A woman owning a business was just not a thing ... and customers wanted to talk to the man.”
Many assumed Hunter, who continued working at the store for a time, was still the owner.
Thompson had an answer when customers asked to see the boss, whom they assumed was Hunter.
“I’m sorry, he isn’t here,′ and that’s all I really had to say because he was gone quite a bit for the last couple of years he was here,” she said.
Thompson even kept the purchase of the store so low-key, that her future husband, Stephen, didn’t know. He found out after he proposed to her.
“It just felt better at the time to not let too many people know she was the store’s owner,” Thompson said. “It was that time, that era.”
“The other thing was, I always felt women knew jewelry better than men, but men weren’t comfortable buying big-ticket items from women,” she said.
Thompson’s appraisal expertise is well renowned, and designing and repairing jewelry also makes up a big chunk of business. Customers’ buying habits, though, have changed.
“Most of my clients are older, and I’m now waiting on their grandchildren, and that’s kind of hard to deal with at times,” she said with a laugh. “They move away and come back for the holidays. Or nowadays, it’s email or the internet, and they order off the website and we ship them from here.”
Thanks to online shopping, Way-Fil can send packages anywhere in the country. Thompson felt early on that the internet would play a large role in future consumer habits, and opened an eBay store in 1999. The store’s website went live in the early 2000s.
Thompson’s appraisal expertise has her working with insurance companies, trust departments and the government to ensure the proper paperwork is filed in the right place.
“For insurance companies, we do replacements, and we try to keep it mainly in this area, but we’ve shipped all over the country,” she said.
Like other jewelry stores, Way-Fil has a collection of watches, rings, bracelets and necklaces to complement the custom design work as well as estate jewelry that’s available.
“Ready-made retail its not that big a thing anymore,” she said. “I try not to do cookie-cutter jewelry. I try to do things that are different. We also don’t get into a lot of color stones. I try to keep it strictly to diamonds, gold and platinum — the basics. I don’t do a lot of silver — I just didn’t develop a touch for it.”
Thompson also does a lot of jewelry with coins.
“I’ve found that a lot of people like coin jewelry or they’re collecting coins or the estates come though with a lot of coins,” she said. “So I had to take a lot of numismatic courses for that. But I really enjoy that, seeing coins from all over the world and from every era.”
Thompson is the only full-time employee at Way-Fil, but she does employ seven part-timers who are as invaluable to her as her loyal customers.
“I didn’t think I would be sitting here after all these years — I didn’t even think I’d get a chance to much less buy it,” she said. “But I’m a happy camper most of the time.”
Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com