“I got this in Vegas. I didn’t tell her that,” said Hershel Graubart, holding up a blue T-shirt and motioning toward the front of the jewelry store, where his daughter was busy with a customer.
The 90-year-old’s grin was full of mischief as he held the shirt up to his chest, the white letters on its front announcing, “I see no good reason to act my age.”
Even without the shirt, it’s easy to tell Graubart’s still got plenty of little kid left inside of him. His brown eyes were bright and his laughter filled the store’s back room on a morning in early July, when he spoke of his many years as a jeweler in Schenectady.
Graubart’s grandfather opened Samuel Graubart Jewelers in 1897 on Lower State Street. His father, Maurice, joined the business in 1910, and the two men relocated the store to Jay Street in 1918.
Over the years, the name changed to Maurice B. Graubart Jewelers and then, when Graubart and his brother, Walter, came to work there, it became Maurice B. Graubart and Sons.
The brothers ran the store until it closed in December of 2002.
Graubart began working in the store around age 11. His earliest memory of the business is of his grandfather telling him to wash the counters.
“I would have rather been out playing ball,” he said, that 11-year-old revealed in his merry eyes.
Starting at age 13, he worked at the jewelry store every day after school, but took a break after high school, when he enlisted in the New York State Guard and then the US Army. During his time in the service, he served as a photographer, taking still shots and motion pictures of his battalion and of secret operations.
After being discharged in 1947, he returned to the family trade.
“I wanted to get married and I had to make a living, so I went into the jewelry business,” the Niskayuna resident explained.
The object of his affection was Hazel Ginsberg, a girl he met in high school. They were married within a year of his return from the military.
Graubart said the best part of working in the jewelry business was “seeing people in love the way I was.” He recalled happy customers who would come in for engagement rings or gifts for special occasions.
Hazel died 22 years ago, after a long illness, he recounted, sadness still fresh in his voice.
He brightened as he spoke of his time spent working as a jeweler — the way the store served as a gathering place, and the satisfaction of earning customers’ trust.
The jewelry business changed over the years, but attention to the customer never wavered, he said.
He recalled a day when a man walked into the store with a pocket watch his grandfather had acquired from Samuel Graubart for use in his job on the railroad. At the time, the railroad worker didn’t have the money to pay for it. Samuel Graubart handed the watch to him anyway and told him to pay for it when he could.
“That’s the way business was done in those days,” Graubart said.
The generosity shown by the jewelry store’s founder was mirrored in the way his grandsons did business.
“If we knew a customer well enough, if they had a baby, we’d engrave the baby’s name on a sterling baby cup and have it sent to them. We used to do that very often,” Graubart recalled.
Despite being retired for over a decade, Graubart still keeps up with the jewelry industry.
Most years, he attends the Jewelers’ Circular Keystone Trade Show in Las Vegas — where he picked up his favorite T-shirt — and goes to meetings of the New York State Jewelers Association and the American Gem Society.
Graubart’s daughter, Sheryll Hoffman, can be found behind the jewelry counter at JM Jewelers in Rotterdam, a business she purchased in 2007.
When she took over the store, her dad gave her one piece of advice: Pay your bills on time.
“That was one thing my father insisted on,” he explained. “Build up an excellent reputation.”
Graubart looked on with delight as his daughter waited on Barbara Marhafer of Schenectady, one of his longtime customers.
“I have been collecting all of this stuff that needs repairs and I said, ‘I’m not bringing them anywhere until I find out where these people went,’” Marhafer said, referring to the Graubarts.
As Hoffman inspected a broken string of pearls, Marhafer expressed her pleasure at reconnecting with the Graubart family.
“I trust them. That’s why I’m here,” she said.
Reach Gazette reporter Kelly de la Rocha at 395-3040 or [email protected] and on Twitter @KellydelaRocha.