The end of this era isn’t the final chapter
The Little Silver Shop will transition to online sales
By John Fitts
This isn’t the end for the Little Silver Shop, but certainly many will miss that fanciful garage-turned storefront/workshop in Old Avon Village that for six decades served as “world headquarters” for sales of the button bracelet and other pieces of handmade jewelry.
“It was 61 Years ago that Richard E. Parker opened the Little Silver Shop in Avon, CT. From this quaint Little Shop (previously a garage) came some very BIG designs – the most famous of all…the “Button Bracelet,” Richard’s son Robert posted on social media in late August in announcing that the storefront would close but the business would continue online. “Through the years, family and friends from near and far would visit the store and take home some sparkling treasures, or as Richard had tag-lined an “Heirloom of Tomorrow.”
Sadly, Richard Parker passed away last December but there’s no doubt that his legacy lives on, not only through the countless pieces of jewelry and the ones the business will continue to sell via the Internet, but also through stories and memories.
Many recall those distinctive features for which Mr. Parker was so well known. His obit acknowledges he could be a curmudgeon but many remember endearing qualities like the Dickies and blue button-down shirts, classic Cadillacs, impeccably trimmed rosebushes and the keen interest in his surroundings that earned him the title of “Mayor of Old Avon Village.”
Mr. Parker grew up in Plainville, but it was during his high-school years at Vermont Academy that he became interested in “rock hounding.”
“It was a science teacher who had a geology class that took them out for field trips to do that sort of thing and that led to polishing the stones – tumbling them and polishing them and thinking about what he might do with them,” said Mr. Parker’s wife, Jeannie (Thompson) Parker.
Interested in dentistry, Mr. Parker went on to Tufts University and there took a class in jewelry making and silversmithing through what is currently known as the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University.
The class did more than the ease the academic burden for a pre-med student.
“That class become the seed for his future work at the silver shop,” Jeannie Parker said.
Mr. Parker served in the U.S. Army reserves and after graduating, worked as an insurance claims adjuster and then as a salesman for a pharmaceutical company, where he covered much of The Green Mountain State.
While in Vermont, he also played duplicate bridge and his fellow players learned of his jewelry-making hobby and subsequently purchased some pieces.
“They bought from him and it kind of piqued his curiosity of maybe doing more with it,” Jeannie Parker said.
Disillusioned with some aspects of his then career, Mr. Parker learned of a small garage for rent in Old Avon Village.
He opened The Little Silver Shop in 1961 and, fortunately, it took off. It also brought him Jeannie, who went into the shop in the spring or summer of 1965 to have a piece re-sized. She initially declined Mr. Parker’s invitation for a date – as she had a boyfriend at the time – but it eventually worked out and the couple was married in 1966.
And while their family and the business grew, the 122 square-foot area designated for retail sales in the shop never did.
Fortunately the workshop space – just 48 square feet in the back of the building – did.
As the business grew, Mr. Parker had as many as two silversmiths working alongside of him in that space.
“Picture the elves at Christmas,” Jeannie Parker said. “Really, the hammers were just flying back there hour after hour. I don’t know how they stood it.” Fortunately, in 1973, work commenced on an 8- by 12-foot addition to the side of the building, giving the silversmiths room to breathe.
The business employed several silversmiths over the years, but some became staples. Jeannie’s brother Douglas Thompson served as assistant silversmith from circa 1970 through about 1995. Thomas Parker, son of Richard and Jeannie, took over that role from roughly the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s, when he went on to open his own shop in Great Barrington.
Before leaving the business, Thomas Parker trained Chris Mathein, who has stayed on as silversmith and will continue creating jewelry for the Little Silver Shop’s online sales.
Over the years, the business employed countless “sales girls” as well, some of whom also stayed for many years.
Elin Larsen, who lived near the family, started on Thanksgiving weekend in 1974 and worked in some capacity at the store for approximately 15 years, leading the sales team for some of that time.
She started at a busy time and she remembers holiday periods with as many as 6 colleagues selling in that tiny space.
“There’d be a line out the door and we kept going from the time it opened to the time it closed,” she said.
But quiet times at the Little Silver Shop didn’t translate to idleness. Mr. Parker expected people to keep busy.
“He taught me a lot. He was the best boss I ever had, only because he taught me such good work habits,” she said. “There was no sitting around in that store. There might be three of us in there on a summer day with nothing to do, so we did what we did over and over - but he taught me great work habits and it stayed with me forever.”
Larsen was even entrusted to pruning the roses that surrounded the shop and fondly remembers some of those trademark cars Mr. Parker was known to drive, including a Buick Riviera.
“The Riviera was a car around town that everyone knew,” she said. “It was a classic and he was so proud of it. They made him the mayor of Old Avon Village, which he was also very proud of.”
The family estimates that designation came at least 17 years ago.
“It was a surprise; they installed it out there without him knowing,” Jeannie Parker said. “It was a wonderful gesture by Ann August who, at that time, owned the village.”
“He kind of got that title because he’d always walk around in the morning with his cup of coffee and talk to everybody and catch up on the gossip and news,” said Robert Parker.
He’d also keep his eye out for aspects of the village that needed work. “He was always about making the village look nice,” Jeannie Parker said.
He may have worked hard to keep things nice and continually update and add new designs but, in many ways, Mr. Parker was a creature of habit. For decades, he wore the same leather apron, finally giving it up when it became so dirty that his clothe
were getting tarnished.
He also had those distinctive cars, clothes and hairstyle.
“He always wore his hairstyle the same from the 50s right straight through, with a whiffle in the front,” Jeannie Parker said.
But there’s no doubt that the button bracelet is Mr. Parker’s legacy. His designs were numerous but that has remained the best-selling one. Numerous variations exist but that original bracelet with its wavy silver and simple, yet imminently functional button clasp remained the favorite.
His family estimates that it was just four or five years into the business that he began making them, drawing inspiration from historical hook bracelets found in many cultures.
It’s sold so far and wide and has become highly recognizable.
“It’s interesting that you see people and they will recognize the button bracelet and say ‘I know exactly where you got that,’” said Paul Henault of Simsbury.
Henault’s family has been shopping at the Little Silver Shop for decades – his wife Terry as far back as the 1970s.
Notably, when the couple relocated temporarily to San Francisco, they would still run across people who recognized Mr. Parker’s handiwork.
They are far from alone with that story. Sometimes it’s those sporting the bracelets that are shocked when someone from the Farmington Valley knows from whence it came.
Over the years, people have also taken and shared photos of the bracelets in exotic locales that have included small Italian Villages, the Eiffel Tower and on Kenyan safari.
Many years ago, Mr. Parker received a U.S. Map at Christmas – so he could mark sightings with push-pins. A world map soon followed and in recent history, social media has made it even easier for people to share their photos – and stories of bracelets, the shop and Mr Parker.
“It’s amazing to me that it just keeps going – and that the young kids would want something or wear something that their mother or grandmother wore but the designs are almost timeless,” Robert Parker said. “They’re not elaborate. They just kind of seem to span the space of time.”
Mr. Parker stopped working at the shop in March of 2020 when it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As fate would have it, he would have soon stopped due to declining health.
Since then, however Robert Parker has stepped in, traveling frequently from his home in Sarasota, Florida, keeping the business going and launching online sales. His dad was known for his old-school system of paperwork, hand-drawn designs and pricing in ledger journals, and even a book that included past purchases for frequent customers – a feature that got more than a few significant others out of a jam for an anniversary or birthday.
Robert has brought back some of his dad’s designs, such as a mushroom pendant and bracelet that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s and have become so again. He’s also found nautical themed designs of the past have been a hit at farmers markets in Sarasota.
The decision to close the shop in Avon was a difficult one and Robert Parker is keenly aware that people will miss the ability to come in, try something on – or pick up that very last-minute gift.
“It’s tough because I know that people come to look and try on and you don’t get that experience online,” he said.
Since the announcement was posted on social media, the store has been extremely busy. Some customers mistakenly thought they would no longer be able to purchase the jewelry.
Also, in the last several weeks, Robert Parker has been overwhelmed – in a good way – with stories and memories of experiences, family stories and so much more.
“I had a woman come in last week and say ‘I just had to come in and look one last time at the shop - take it all in,’” he said.
While there is much to do in transferring the way the business operates, Robert Parker has received a personal gift in the last several months.
Unlike his brother, Robert Parker, who is in the private mortgage lending business, went a different career direction than his father.
“It’s been an awesome experience for me because I always did my own thing and was involved in my own businesses and dad did his thing,” he said. “The last year and a half has really given me an appreciation for it,” he said. “Dad committed essentially his whole working life to crafting jewelry for the community.”
The last official day to shop at the Avon store is Sept. 29.
Robert is also hoping to schedule some pop-events in the future in and near the Farmington Valley to give people the chance to at least occasionally come once again to shop the designs in person and share their experiences.
“I’m open to seeing what direction we can go,” Robert Parker said. “My goal is to keep dad’s designs out there and keep his legacy alive.”
The Little Silver shop can be found at http://www.littlesilvershop.com/
Updates can also be found via https://www.facebook.com/Littlesilvershop1