Company News

Philanthropy Sparkles at Komara Jewelers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Bob Komara, owner of Komara Jewelers in Canfield, traces the origins of his company’s philanthropy to a couple of incidents two decades ago.

They were the starting point for him to donate tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise and gift cards to nonprofit organizations and charitable causes over the years.

The Mahoning-Shenango Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals is recognizing Komara Jewelers, which Komara owns, as its Outstanding Small Business Philanthropist.

His father, Stephen Komara, who emigrated from Czechoslovakia, opened the original Komara Jewelers shop in Struthers in 1948. Bob Komara, the oldest of seven children, began working in that shop on State Street as soon as he was old enough to use a broom and wipe off the glass cases.

That was essential because the store was so close to the then-booming steel mills. Soot from their smokestacks blew into the store whenever the door opened, so sweeping and wiping down the cases was pretty much an all-day job.

“You had to. If you didn’t constantly sweep and dust the cases off, they’d be full of soot by the end of the day,” he recalls.

At age 12, he graduated to engraving. It was during his junior year in college that he decided to fully go into the family business.

“I am very fortunate that we’ve been able to make a nice living for a long time,” he reflects.

In part, Komara says, he is following the philanthropic example set by his father, whom he describes as generous and good. “He liked helping people,” the oldest son says. “I like helping people. I like to help the community and I would rather give than receive.”

One incident that led to Komara Jewelers embracing philanthropy involved his now-adult children.

In elementary school, as daughter Brianna Komara-Pridon recalls, one of her fellow students couldn’t afford to go on the school trip to Camp Fitch. “We were so excited about going to Camp Fitch and we had gone before,” she says. She and her siblings lobbied their father, who anonymously paid for their classmate’s transportation.

“That has a lot to do with it because of how good it made me feel,” Komara says. He doesn’t know if the pupil ever learned his identity but the child “wrote a very nice note” thanking his anonymous benefactor, he says.

The other episode involved the store’s marketing director at the time, who was involved with putting on an event for the Alzheimer’s Association. She had approached Komara about donating a piece of jewelry – something in the $4,000 to $5,000 range – to spark interest.

“I thought she was crazy,” the jeweler recalls. He gave it further thought and agreed to make the donation. After that gift, more organizations approached him about helping their causes.

Komara continues to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association. Other beneficiaries of the company’s generosity are the Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University, American Cancer Society, Cardinal Mooney High School, United Way, Hospice of the Valley, Beatitude House and the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center.

An estimate the Association of Fundraising Professionals provided assesses the value of Komara’s philanthropy at more than $500,000 over 10 years – excluding the funds raised by the nonprofits that benefit from it.

“Mr. Komara obviously is very passionate about philanthropy, so anyone who walks in the front door, regardless of whether it’s an organization or a family that has suffered, he makes sure that we give them something to help,” says Mickey Meelich, Bob Komara’s sister-in-law and the store’s marketing director.

Meelich also manages the store’s philanthropy. “My role is to make sure that the community feels supported by us,” she says. “We follow up with them as well.”

In some cases, the contribution is a substantial piece of jewelry, something anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, to be offered at an auction or as a raffle prize, Komara says. Other times, a gift card of $50 or $100 is donated. “I pretty much tell her what it should be,” Komara says.

Sometimes the store buys an ad in an event program as well, and the owner and employees donate time in the community.

“He inspires me, and his children inspire me, to do the right thing,” Meelich says. “He’s never said ‘no’ to anyone. Never.”

The store gets more than a thousand requests for contributions each year, Komara estimates. “Sometimes I go overboard. I’m not a multimillionaire,” he says, “but I’ve pretty much committed to it.”

It isn’t always easy, especially during slow periods for the store such as the summer months, Komara says. “If I ever want to say ‘no,’ that’s the time,” he allows. He has managed to space the store’s business out so “we’re busy most of the time,” he adds.

Komara-Pridon – who, with her brother, Robbie, works at the store –says her father instilled in his children from a young age the importance of giving back.

“We both feel very strongly about giving back to the community,” she says. “The community is what’s helped us to be in business for 70 years, so every organization that comes in the door we support. It’s exhausting sometimes but we support it and they appreciate it.”

Pictured: Komara Jewelers owner Bob Komara, seated, says his children, Brianna Komara-Pridon and Robbie Komara, played a role in beginning the store’s philanthropy. Marketing Director Mickey Meelich, right, helps manage the store’s philanthropic givings.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.