By Donna Cornelius
Facing economic adversity isn’t new to America’s oldest known family-owned retailer.
Founded in Mobile in 1836, Bromberg & Co. Inc. has survived the American Civil War, Great Depression, two World Wars, recessions – and now, the coronavirus pandemic.
Frederick W. Bromberg, who started the business, likely would approve of the way his great-great-great-grandson and namesake Ricky Bromberg, company president, has led the well-known Birmingham-based fine jewelry and gift store through the challenges that have come with COVID-19 restrictions.
“During the time our showrooms were closed, we were able to pay our employees,” Ricky Bromberg said. “We had money saved for situations like this. It’s in our DNA.”
He said his company’s long-time business philosophy is to operate very conservatively.
“This was reinforced and instilled in all of us,” he said. “My father was raised during the Depression, and my grandparents lived it. Their experiences had a profound effect on our attitudes.”
One major component of the Bromberg’s business plan is to be debt-adverse.
“We have relationships with our banks, of course, but we try to pay for things as we go and not totally rely on banks,” Bromberg said.
Bromberg’s was closed to the public from March 18 until May 1 but continued to serve its customers via curbside service.
“We had a skeleton crew,” Bromberg said. “We reopened on May 1 and slowly, over the next five weeks, people became more comfortable getting out.”
Some customers needed more personal attention while the showrooms at the company’s stores in Mountain Brook Village and at The Summit were closed.
“In those cases, we could meet them outside the door or use FaceTime,” Bromberg said.
The store has put its own safety measures in place since reopening.
“Like most businesses, we have new protocols – social distancing, cleaning, sanitation,” Bromberg said. “Our employees who interact with the public wear facemasks. We thoroughly clean the jewelry after anyone touches it before it’s put back into the case.”
While he’s understandably pleased with his company’s well-being, he’s sympathetic toward the owners of fledgling businesses that haven’t had the time to become securely established.
“I do think we’re in a unique position because we’ve been in business for so long,” Bromberg said. “It’s been more difficult for new businesses. They weren’t counting on anything remotely like this, and my heart goes out to them. New businesses can adapt to trends, tastes and ideas quickly – but it’s been difficult for them to adjust to this.”
He’s familiar with two sources that can offer support to businesses that may be struggling. Bromberg is a past president of the Alabama Retail Association and said the organization has helped members with informative emails and PPP – Paycheck Protection Program — guidelines.
“Locally, the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce has been very pro-active during this time,” he said.
What does he see on the economic horizon for Bromberg’s and other family-owned businesses in Birmingham and all of Alabama?
“If I have learned anything from 2020, it’s not to make predictions,” he said. “For us, at least, we’re always searching for ways to remain relevant to our customers. If we take care of the things that are important to them, the rest will fall into place.”
The question, he said, is whether current conditions will be “the new normal or just a new wrinkle.”
Whatever happens, Bromberg’s goals won’t change.
“Our mission statement is to provide an unforgettable and enjoyable luxury experience,” Bromberg said. “Our tactics may change, but our mission will remain the same.”
He used a familiar fable to illustrate his company’s stability.
“Who won the race – the tortoise or the hare?” he said. “I hate to say our business model is based on a tortoise, but we’ve always tried to remain steady.”
About Bromberg & Co.: The business is known for its engagement rings, diamonds and statement pieces of jewelry made by exclusive, world-class brands such as David Yurman, Rolex, Roberto Coin, and Mikimoto. The company also carries a large selection of china, crystal, sterling flatware, and other gifts and collectables. For more information, visit brombergs.com.