One of Maine’s most recognizable jewelry store chains is going out of business, ending a 60-year run that gave it a statewide presence after starting out on Congress Street in downtown Portland.

G.M. Pollack & Sons Jewelers had closed all but one of its stores in Maine as of Thursday, with the last store at the Mall Plaza in South Portland expected to remain open only a few more weeks. It wasn’t clear Thursday night how many workers would be out of jobs because the company was closing.

Stan Pollack, the chain’s former owner, said former general manager Nick Kleftis became president of the company when Pollack sold it to his workers in 2009. Attempts to reach Kleftis for comment Thursday night were unsuccessful, but Pollack said the chain’s demise was likely because of several factors, including increased competition from Internet jewelry sales and an economy that forces families to spend their income on essential items rather than luxury items.

Customers in South Portland on Thursday evening were greeted by a giant yellow sign in the storefront window that read, “Going Out of Business. Up to 70 percent off.” Smaller signs that were leaning against a wall inside the store said, “Closing Forever.”

Employees at the South Portland store said it would be at least a couple of weeks before the store was shuttered, closing the book on a story that Stan Pollack and his parents, Gerald and Perle Pollack, began to write in 1955 when the family moved to Maine from Boston.

“We came here with nothing,” Stan Pollack said in a telephone interview Thursday evening. “But my father bought a little store on Congress Street (549 Congress St.), and before you knew it we had 13 stores.”

Pollack’s father taught him the business. Pollack recalled a moment when his father stood with him at the front window of the Congress Street store. As they looked out on the streetscape and the people walking past, Gerald Pollack said to his son, “Those people are your bosses. They are the ones who will give you a paycheck if you treat them with respect and courtesy.”

ONCE RANKED AS TOP-50 JEWELER

It was a message that Pollack said he never forgot and which he tried to instill in all of his employees.

After his father died in 1999, Stan Pollack became president and operated G.M. Pollack until selling the chain and then retiring in 2011. During that period, Stan Pollack’s silky smooth voice in radio ads – the most well-recognized spot being one in which he says, “My name is Stan Pollack and I really want to be your jeweler” – helped boost the store’s reputation and visibility.

In 2010, G.M. Pollack & Sons was ranked 37th out of the top 50 jewelers in North America by National Jeweler Magazine.

The 76-year-old Pollack, who lives in South Portland now, said he decided to sell his family’s chain after beating cancer in the early 2000s.

“I decided it was time to enjoy my life,” he said.

Pollack sold all the stores in the G.M. Pollack & Sons chain to his employees in 2009, making G.M. Pollack the first employee-owned jewelry chain in Maine.

The company’s Facebook page indicates that the chain has been struggling for some time.

In early June, the store posted a message on Facebook that said, “G.M. Pollack & Sons has consolidated from 12 to 5 stores. Seven stores of inventory must be liquidated now.”

One Facebook commenter said she went to the G.M. Pollack store at the Topsham Fair Mall in late April to get her wedding ring cleaned and was surprised to find the store closed. Gail Sarrazin Carter added, “I’ve been faithful for 23 years so hoping my guarantee will still be good.”

Another commenter, Amber Boobar, posted a comment in March that said, “Now that your store in the Bangor Mall has closed unexpectedly, how do people find out about their jewelry that was brought in for repair?”

SADNESS OVER LOST INSTITUTION

Laurie Smith, who managed the G.M. Pollack store in Sanford until it closed two weeks ago, said the closure has been heartbreaking for the chain’s employees as well. Smith, now at the South Portland store, has worked for G.M. Pollack for 18 years.

She said the company is no longer able to do repairs, but that people have been enjoying the discounts on what is left of the jeweler’s inventory. Those discounts range from 70 percent to 80 percent off the list price.

“It’s so sad,” Smith said Thursday during an interview inside the South Portland shop. “I’m heartbroken. I love this company and I love the customers.”

Smith had not been told why the store closed.

South Portland store manager Julie Grover did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Stan Pollack said the passage of time brings upheaval and changes that no one can predict. He mentioned several Portland institutions that once thrived but no longer exist, including downtown department stores such as Porteous Mitchell and Braun and Benoit’s.

He said the company’s success was based on the way his family treated customers and employees, putting those relationships above profit.

“That was my secret. Everything I did came from the heart. That has been lost,” he said.

Pollack remembered a blind man who came to his store one day to buy a diamond ring. He spent about two hours with the man, letting him touch as many rings as he liked until he found the right one.

“Before he was done, that man could see the diamond ring he was buying,” Pollack said.

“Everyone in this industry sells the same product. It’s how you take care of your customers thats sets you apart from the rest.”


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