Jewelry store to ring register for last time

Dean Hoalst Jewelers will close at the end of December after more than three decades.

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WALLA WALLA -- Main Street may have a little less sparkle at the start of the new year.

Downtown Walla Walla retailer Dean Hoalst Jewelers will close its doors at the end of December after more than three decades in business.

Owner Dean Hoalst said Wednesday the decision came from a combination of things: the increasing price of gold, the sluggish economy and a ticking clock.

With a long road ahead for economic recovery from the recession, he said it may take five years to fully recuperate the investment in inventory at his downtown shop, 13 E. Main St. That, in and of itself, isn't a problem. But the 64-year-old Hoalst said he had hoped to retire in the next couple of years, which means he'd either have to stay for the long haul or risk missing an opportunity to pursue other interests.

"I didn't plan on quitting this early, but it's just the way things are," Hoalst said.

He plans to stay in the area and pursue his passion for equestrian endurance riding.

In the meantime, Hoalst plans to stay put through the holidays, which can account for as much as 30 percent of jewelry sales, according to retail industry estimates. A going-out-of-business sale begins today.

Though closing the doors on the retail operation, Hoalst doesn't expect to be away from jewelry forever. Particularly custom pieces and repair.

"I've always loved making jewelry," he said. "I think I probably will go back to that at some point after I get my playing out."

The step into jewelry making was a natural one for a relatively young Hoalst. His father was a mining engineer in Nevada. Hoalst learned about cutting turquoise through his dad's mine in the 1970s after he got out of the service. He and his wife would cut the stones and sell them in New Mexico and Arizona.

He built on his expertise through silver-smithing courses and found a ripe market in Washington for turquoise. As the trend quietly faded, Hoalst began learning about other gemstones through training with the Gemological Institute of America.

Not long after, he moved here from Chehalis, Wash., and partnered with Gene Strickland in a jewelry store in Eastgate in 1979. The location served as a retail hub in Walla Walla for years, but after construction of the Blue Mountain Mall in the late 1980s, foot traffic decreased in Eastgate over time. More businesses moved to the mall. The jewelry store went, too.

Hoalst, who had previously worked in the back end of the store while Strickland ran the front, bought out his partner and moved to the mall in the late 1990s.

Eventually the changing retail pattern that led him from Eastgate to the mall also directed his move from the mall to downtown's Main Street about six years ago.

The closure of his store leaves his block of Main Street with two other longtime jewelry stores: Martin's Jewelers and Falkenberg's Jewelers.

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