Goodman's Jewelers

Photo by Eric Tadsen

“And if it wouldn’t be too much, I’d like to get something for you, Clark. Something…really nice.”

–Cousin Eddie, Christmas Vacation

As Clark says, Eddie’s heart is bigger than his brain, and it’s Cousin Eddie’s spirit of generosity that permits us to forgive his antics. The holidays are approaching, and with the spirit of giving and understanding in full bloom, I’m once again in awe of the charity of others. This includes the charitable small businesses in the Greater Madison area, whose fostering of interpersonal connections throughout the community aren’t just for show.

The story of Goodman’s Jewelers is well-known in Madison, and for good reason. Even through the hardships of 2020, John Hayes never lost sight of the original owners’, Bob and Irwin Goodman’s, vision of philanthropy first.

“That’s a big belief of Bob and Irwin’s,” says John. “You have to support the community that supports you.” From the recreational to the religious to community services, if it has the Goodman name on it, it’s most likely part of the over $10 million the two donated in their lifetimes. John upholds the Goodman’s legacy through donations and support for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County, United Way, and the Goodman Community Center, to name a few. He also continues the longstanding tradition of paying for the first 500 swimmers that visit the Goodman Pool every year.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Irwin fell in love with Madison way back in the 1930s, “when Irwin was an athlete with the University of Minnesota,” says John. “He was a track athlete—shotput and javelin. In fact, he held the shotput record for a lot of years. And Bob played a lot of baseball; he was a very good athlete too. The competition led Irwin to compete against Wisconsin. During one of the competitions, he discovered a jewelry store that wasn’t doing well. He convinced his parents to buy the store in ’33. In ’38, he bought the store from them and convinced Bob to join him in business.”

John’s own story for how he came to work at a jewelry store places him all over the Midwest, but he recalls when he was “working for Continental Oil Company managing a gas station. I was offered a district manager position to be responsible for five stores for a whole $100 more a month.” That’s when he decided to move on from the petrol life to something he knew diddly squat about: jewelry. “I’d been in a jewelry store twice in my life before that. Once when I bought an engagement ring, and once when I went in with my older brother, I was probably five, and bought a mother’s ring for my mom.”

The opportunity for change came from a friend working for Zales in Marshalltown, Iowa. John went through Zales’ accredited manager training program and bounced around the stores for a few years before getting connected to Bob and Irwin through his friend, who had become a ring manufacturer in the Twin Cities. Goodman’s was one of his friend’s accounts, and they were looking to replace five people who were getting ready for retirement. On June 28, 1983, John came in for his first day of work, a buying session, and hit the ground running.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Over the next 15 years, John went from salesperson to sales manager to general manager. When Bob and Irwin decided to retire, in 1998, John says they gave him the option to purchase the business. “It was more of a transition than a transaction. They treated me like a son.” The transition was so natural that a lot of people didn’t even realize a change in ownership had occurred. John often visited Bob and Irwin long afterwards, as they still had a lot to give. Irwin passed away in August, 2009, and Bob in April, 2010.

John keeps the Goodmans alive in ways beside philanthropy. Their philosophy on paying employees salary and hourly wages instead of commission continues. As John says, “I didn’t work on commission for Bob and Irwin. We work on team effect to want to sit down and listen to the customer—find out what their needs are. Find out what they like before we show them things that they’re going to be able to afford and that are going to be long lasting.”

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Every single piece, from the $20 bracelet to the $20,000 engagement ring, has been looked at. “If there are stones in it, the stones are set straight; they’re set tight. They’re not chipped. There have been instances where I’ve sent an entire order back to vendors due to quality control.” There’s no cost too great for John when it comes to taking care of his customers and employees. Whether you shop or work here, you’re family.

John’s customers include those looking for something to give to someone special in their lives; those looking to reward themselves, maybe because of a promotion; and collectors. In that range, there’s no room for poor quality or for pieces tainted by bad practices. John even gave a presentation in Cape Town, South Africa, on ethics in the industry from the point of view of a small business. “From where the gemstones are mined to where they’re cut to where they’re set and put into jewelry to the customer’s hand or neck, it’s all got to be done right.”

So much of what people praise Madison for is in the past and present actions of Goodman’s Jewelers. It’s why Bob, Irwin, and John’s stories have been told time and time again. Whether it’s doing something really nice or getting someone you love something…really nice, it’s good to know there’s a place in Madison where doing one often means doing the other.

Kyle Jacobson is lead writer and senior copy editor for Madison Essentials.

Photograph by Barbara Wilson