Let them wear pearls New Roscoe Village jewelry store offers quality pearls from around the world
by Deborah Fellinger of the Columbia Chronicle - published 4-13-2009
For flight attendants Alexis Boilini, Betty Gilbert and Cherie Lambourne, the economy caused a reduction in working hours with American Airlines. This might be a deterrent for some, but it inspired the three women to think creatively and open their own jewelry boutique in Roscoe Village for additional income.
"We all love to shop and we all love jewelry," said Gilbert. "We all took such pay cuts with the airline [so] we did this to keep shopping."
Gilbert, Boilini and Lambourne shop during downtime when flying for work, bringing back merchandise from around the world to sell at tentbooths and summer festivals, including the Retro on Roscoe and Custer's Last Stand festival in Evanston, Ill. The positive response from their Retro on Roscoe booth led to the decision to open their store, Pearls and Cake, 2212 W. Roscoe St., in December.
"The store started out to be a warehouse because we had so much inventory," Gilbert said. "People started knocking on the window [asking], 'When are you guys going to open?"
Their merchandise comes from locations such as Argentina, China, India, Rome and Kauai, Hawaii and includes pearl necklaces, bracelets and rings. Keeping a low price point is of top priority to Boilini, Gilbert and Lambourne.
The women specialize in oyster shell pearls, which are cultivated by placing an irritant, often a grain of sand or a shell particle, into an oyster. This allows for a "very high quality" product at a fraction of the price of natural pearl jewelry, because naturally formed pearls are quite rare. Essentially, the only difference between a natural and cultivated pearl is whether the irritant placed in the mollusk is done so by a pearl farmer. Jewelers often can't tell the difference between natural and cultivated pearls by sight alone, Gilbert said.
Additionally, since Boilini, Gilbert and Lambourne carry back all the goods from their travels themselves, there is no need for a middleman, which helps them keep costs low.
"Our mission is to bring beautiful, affordable items to working women," Lambourne said.
Though the store's name somewhat implies luxury and decadence, the reasoning behind calling the store Pearls and Cake was simple: "What woman doesn't love pearls and cake?" Lambourne said, noting that customers will come into the store and expect to be served cake.
"I tell people the 'cake' is everything extra," said Ashley Pilurs, who manages the store. The store also sells merchandise that includes turquoise jewelry, scarves, tea, mugs, decorated pens and makeup. Pilurs said bestselling jewelry pieces are pearl bracelets, long and beaded "Jolie" necklaces, a Sex and the City movie-inspired necklace of pearls and Swarovski crystals, and a necklace of large, multicolored pearls modeled after one made popular by Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Congresswoman and Speaker of the House.
Community support also factors into the company through jewelry parties, where an organization can earn 20 percent of the proceeds donated toward its cause, which is often a school or charity. Individual customers wishing to earn some cash may also hold their own jewelry events. In addition, Boilini, Gilbert and Lambourne also have an ongoing Wednesday special to give customers 20 percent off a total purchase if they bring in three nonperishable food items that will be donated to the Chicago Food Depository.
"I don't think there's any [other] store like this," Lambourne said. "We want to make it a neighborhood place to hang out, bring by your dog or kids."
Favored by the likes of Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Onassis Kennedy and Michelle Obama, pearls still hold associations of elegance and glamour among women who wear them.
"[Pearls] are the new diamond," Gilbert said. "Pearls are a girl's best friend."
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