YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The ultimate Christmas gift might just be a Rolex watch, and there is only one place in the Mahoning Valley to buy one: Thom Duma Fine Jewelers in Warren.
Rolex watches, which start at $8,000, are one of the three product categories at Thom Duma, along with bridal jewelry and fashion jewelry.
But the hallmark of all three is merchandise by high-end makers with global reputations.
With the holiday gift-giving season approaching, The Business Journal is spotlighting a handful of local retailers that offer unique products.
Thom Duma Fine Jewelers, 115 W. Market St. on Courthouse Square, downtown Warren, is first on the list.
The store’s roots go back nearly five decades, beginning as one of the five Klivans jewelry stores in the region. Thom Duma purchased the Warren store in 1977, which at the time was a block away on Pine Avenue.
The current identity of the store took shape in 2002, when Duma’s son, Tom, took ownership.
Duma changed the name from Klivans to Thom Duma Fine Jewelers, in honor of his father, and set the store apart by becoming an exclusive dealer for top-shelf makers.
“When I changed the business model, we made it more of a luxury store in terms of the brands we carried,” Duma says. “At that time, there were no Rolex dealers here, no high-end fashion or bridal jewelers, and people had to drive to Cleveland or Pittsburgh to get it.”
Duma gave the store a $600,000 facelift to match its new strategy.
“The first vendor we got was Rolex,” he says. “Once you get the king, it’s easier to get the rest of the top brands in every category.”
The store would go on to become the exclusive area carrier of high-end jewelry makers David Yurman, Tacori, Gabriel & Co. and Verragio.
“It took us 10 years to achieve this vendor plan,” Duma says.
The store is a go-to retailer for the entire Mahoning Valley, with half of its customers hailing from Boardman, Canfield and Poland, Duma points out.
Downtown Warren has seen its ebbs and flows over the decades, but Duma’s store has been a mainstay throughout. Courthouse Square is on the upswing now, with the Robins Theatre opening, as well as several restaurants, bars and apartments.
“It’s a nice environment now, and that helps,” Duma says. “But being the county seat, we always had a lot of professionals downtown, so we always had a nice following. We always were a destination.”
Duma reopened in late May to strong sales after a seven-week shutdown because of the pandemic.
“As many Rolexes as we can get our hands on, we are selling,” Duma says. “I expect that to continue [through the holiday season]. They walk out the door fast.”
Fashion jewelry gifts have also been strong and should remain so in November and December.
“People either fell more in love during the shutdown or (they got sick of each other), and those that rediscovered their love are celebrating milestones with jewelry,” Duma says.
While the pandemic quickened the online shopping trend, Duma says his business will always be based in brick and mortar, and rely on personal contact.
“[Online shopping] can’t compete with the experience of walking into our store,” he says. “We work hard at creating that experience. We remodel every five years just to make sure customers are wowed when they walk in.”
Home Again Has Gift Items You Won’t Find Anywhere Else
At first glance, Home Again looks similar to other local consignment outlets. It has a funky and eclectic flea market vibe, crowded with stuff, and sells items on consignment.
What sets it apart is the uniqueness and quality of the items it displays.
In addition to complete rooms full of quality, and occasionally offbeat furniture and furnishings, there are items of nostalgia, local interest, antiques and oddities.
A pinball machine made in Youngstown in 1907 sits in one aisle with a $2,000 price tag; a small boat turned into a bookshelf is in another.
“We get a lot of stuff here and it changes very quickly,” says Sophia DeRobbio, owner and operator of the store at 7689 South Ave., Boardman.
“[For the holidays,] we are great for novelty gifts, stuff you can’t find anywhere else,” she says. “If you don’t know what to get [a man], and don’t want to buy another boring tie, come here and maybe find something from his youth.”
Browsing the store can be a trip down memory lane for some, DeRobbio says.
Home Again actually did start as a flea market when it opened in 2008. The business struggled, and when her father took ill, DeRobbio moved back to Youngstown from Florida and started to take over.
“We have so many one-of-a-kind, museum-worthy pieces come through here,” she says. “I’ve had a spiral staircase and a big mounted bear.”
There is also a selection of Youngstown memorabilia.
Much of the furniture, which is arranged by rooms, is displayed via a consignment arrangement. “I’m very choosy with what I bring in,” DeRobbio says.
The owner of the consigned furniture can get much more money by selling it in a store as opposed to an estate auction, she pointed out.
DeRobbio also does interior decorating, and will tastefully and temporarily furnish an empty home or apartment to make it more attractive to buyers.
Youngstown Clothing Co. Offers Gifts That Show Pride
It’s not the clothing – it’s what’s imprinted on it that makes Youngstown Clothing Co. in Southern Park Mall a destination.
The store sells T-shirts, hats, hoodies and more with logos and phrases that let Youngstowners show their pride.
The items are especially popular for family or office gift exchanges during the holiday season. “We’ve noticed that!” says owner Matt McClure.
T-shirts bear the logos of only-in-Youngstown companies, places and customs, including DiRusso’s Sausage, Handel’s Ice Cream, White House Fruit Farm and the Sandwich Factory.
“They are the staple businesses we grew up around, and they’re what make this area great,” McClure says.
There are also T-shirts that tout Mill Creek Park, city high schools that no longer exist, and even phrases that refer to food customs such as cookie tables, spaghetti Sunday and peppers in oil.
The art is created by McClure’s crew, or by artists that he hires.
Youngstown Clothing Co. is also a licensed seller of Youngstown State University apparel and offers items that are not sold at the campus bookstore. Christmas ornaments, candles, coffee mugs and baby clothes are also on the shelves.
McClure started the product line in 2016 with just a website and had a temporary storefront in Southern Park Mall during the 2018 holiday season. He reopened it in October 2019 as a year-round business.
With the pandemic still raging, McClure is leery of whether Black Friday and Small Business Saturday will draw the typically huge throngs of shoppers. He is planning a promotion this season that will spread out the deals over a longer period of time.
Meander Hill Antiques and Gifts For an Americana Christmas
It would be hard to find a more Christmas-y place than Meander Hill Antiques and Gifts.
The store occupies a repurposed barn built in 1860. Tucked away on a quiet stretch of road on the edge of suburbia, it features two floors teeming with decorations, collectibles, art, furnishings and accessories – most of it made in the United States and all of it with Early American charm and quality.
Carved ornaments depicting historical renderings of Santa Claus fill several shelves on their own.
“This is the biggest time of the year for us, September through December,” says Evan Rees, owner of the store at 20 N. Turner Road, Austintown.
There is a lot to love inside Meander Hill. But what will be the most popular item this holiday season? Rees says it’s too soon to tell.
“There’s a popular item every season but we won’t know what it is until the customers tell us what it is,” he says.
Meander Hill opened in the 1960s and was operated by Jack Rees and his wife, Barbara, until 2005, when their son, Evan, took over.
It’s a special place and has built up a following over the decades.
“We have very dedicated customers, a lot of regulars who are passionate,” Rees said. “They like the Early American look.”
Buyers drive in from far and wide.
“A few days ago, a couple came through from Minnesota,” Rees says.
“Another couple came down from Buffalo to specifically come here. They said they can’t find this kind of stuff anywhere else.”
Meander Hill was closed from mid-March to mid-May because of the pandemic, but has seen strong sales since it reopened.
“We’re finding that a lot of people who had been staying at home maybe have some extra money and want to make their house look nice,” Rees says. “Maybe that item that they had been thinking about, they’re saying ‘We want it.’”
While Meander Hill has a website, it is informational only.
“A lot of our merchandise is one of a kind, and it’s not conducive to [online sales],” Rees says. “If you’re going to spend $1,200 on a chair, you’re going to want to see it and sit in it.”
Pictured: Along with selling one-of-a-kind gift items at Home Again, Sophia DeRobbio does interior decorating.