In a glass display at the front of Chavez Fine Jewelers, photographs from the 1970s show owners Faustin “Tino” Chavez and Dolores Chavez in their newly opened store wearing powder blue suits with disco collars.
After 40 years in business, the store has announced its closing and is advertising up to 70 percent off inventory. The official last day has not been announced, but the owners said they will be open through Christmas.
On Friday at DeVargas Center, an elementary school choir sung holiday carols outside the jewelry store as at least 10 customers perused glass cases with handwritten mark-down prices scripted in red ink.
Many customers wished the couple congratulations on their retirement, pressing hands like longtime friends.
On Facebook, following the announcement of the store’s closing, commenters remembered important purchases —engagement rings bought 20 years earlier; class rings from Santa Fe High School (Chavez’s own alma mater); that first “good” watch.
“Wow! I have some beautiful Chavez jewelry! You will be missed,” wrote Margaret Olewnik.
“Oh they will be so missed,” added Mary Elizabeth Shields.
The sentiment was matched by shoppers Friday.
“All my jewelry has come from here” said Patsy Hutchinson, who was shopping with her husband for a ring for their daughter. She’s been a customer for 13 years.
“Listen, you don’t just get jewelry, because they are so much fun!” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll do, they do everything for me.”
Tino’s relationship with DeVargas Center began when he was 12 years old and caddying at the Santa Fe Country Club. It was there he met Nash Hancock, who went on to develop the DeVargas Center and offered Chavez his first lease for $875 per month — including utilities — in 1975.
Initially, Dolores Chavez supported the family by working at First Northern Savings and Loan until the business got off the ground. For the last 40 years, Tino Chavez has been working 10-hour days, five days a week, and Dolores has worked alongside him for the last 25. The couple, in fact, met in a jewelry shop 10 years before they opened their own business together.
“What we missed with our daughters we would like to be able to make up for with our grandchildren now,” Tino Chavez said.
During his 40 years at the store, Tino Chavez, 73, has become immersed in the Santa Fe community. He has sat on the board of Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, and has acted as president of the New Mexico Jewelers Association, the Santa Fe Fiesta Council and Caballeros DeVargas. Plaques of his public service and community record hang on a wall of the jewelry store.
Despite success, Tino Chavez said the decision to retire was motivated by changes in the Santa Fe business community. With the recent announcement of Sanbusco Market Center closing in Railyard, the space Chavez Jewelers inhabits was eyed by one of the relocating businesses.
“Deep down, I wanted to retire, so I took the high road,” Tino Chavez said.
Tino Chavez also noted the jewelry industry has changed with online shopping options and has made it difficult for “brick and mortar” shops like his to compete with virtual dealers.
Dolores Chavez, 72, said the announcement has been emotional.
“Yesterday, we had a lot of ladies coming in crying,” she said, “Today, I don’t want anyone crying, because they make us cry.”
“We’ve been here for 40 years — who else can say that? We are the oldest, oldest shop in the mall. We have seen shops go in and out, and we have remained.
“This is where I was raised,” she added.
Tino Chavez brought out a picture of himself as a young man with a wild beard at the mall’s dedication in 1973. He wears a feathered conquistador hat and an embroidered cape in the photo, and is leaning against a plaque dedicated to the center’s namesake.
“I was de Vargas,” he said.
Contact Rebecca Moss at email@example.com.