As James Bovender prepared to sell the company he began to his son, he wanted to commemorate his 40 years in business. But the typical celebration or anniversary sale just wasn't something the company wanted to do.
Instead, the business based in York County is giving away $40,000 — $1,000 for each year of its existence — to people in need.
Bovender said the company wanted to help the community and do it in a way that made sure every dollar donated was used to fill needs without anything taken out for administrative purposes.
Individuals and local volunteer organizations are the target of the campaign, he said.
A committee of people not employed in Oletowne's business have done a great job at analyzing submissions, Bovender said, and were to release recipient results this week. Ways the business got the word out included through the Internet and the local press.
More than 100 letters, asking for a total of more than $238,000, were received from people in need from the start of the initiative until Oct. 11, Bovender said.
"So we've really had a challenge to get it down to what we can give," he said.
Oletowne is fortunate to be in a position to give, said Bovender's son, Jamie, who worked his way up through the business and is buying Oletowne from his father.
Jewelry is a luxury, and the current economy is not that far removed from the recession. One successful tactic Oletowne has used is concentrating on selling wedding bands, engagement rings, and birthday and anniversary pieces.
"Even though we are a luxury business, and we're mainly a want business, those are some things that are needed," Jamie Bovender said. "We focus our advertising, we focus our strong points, on those areas, especially the engagement ring area."
Also, when the recession hit, the firm had already invested in computer-aided design equipment and began advertising that people who wanted to buy something could start with what they already had — the stones from an old ring, for example. The buyer can get a credit toward the purchase from the old band.
It allowed Oletowne to bypass just buying and reselling gold, which some in the business did to survive. It's something Oletowne never wants to rely on, Jamie Bovender said.
The giving initiative is an extension of Oletowne's philosophy that its customers are its bosses because they are what sustain the business, he said.
James Bovender opened his first Oletowne Jewelers store in Pottstown, Montgomery County, after he rose about as far as he could go within the company that brought him to Pennsylvania from North Carolina.
Although he eventually grew the business to more locations, Bovender had managing partners in markets outside York who eventually bought him out by design.
The company consolidated its York-area locations several years ago to a single location on White Street in West Manchester Township.
Even though he is selling the Oletowne business to his son, Jamie, he will keep going with a division called Antique & Estate Jewelers, which either buys and resells heirlooms and similar items, or brokers the sales of such items.
"It'll keep me off the street," Bovender joked.