ALBEMARLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- After 124 years of business in Albemarle, the owner of Starnes Jewelers, Gene Starnes, says the time has come to close.
"Hardest thing I've ever done in my life, just because I love the employees, I love the customers," said Starnes.
Starnes' grandfather opened Starnes Jeweler in 1898. He spent his entire life working for the store and took over after his father's death at the age of 70.
"We've been through a lot. Been through the pandemic of 1917, made it through this, made it through the depression." Said Starnes, "Healthwise, and age, I'm 80 years old, and I've had some battle with some cancer."
The store was filled with customers Tuesday as people took advantage of the going-out-of-business sale and said their final farewells.
"I hate to see it close. It's a good place," said Wanda Talbert. "Because it is a part of what we were raised around."
Talbert, like many other residents, was shocked and believed the store would always be there, but Starnes has no children or anyone to pass the store to.
"My brother-in-law is helping me, and he's been involved in it. But he's older than I am.," said Starnes
Starnes does not want to sell to a big chain.
"Trustworthy, kind, hometown guy," Hazel Frick said.
Starnes' customers say they will miss the personal service the most.
"My oldest she's 14, so I'll be getting this for her today," Martin Garcia said. "I've been in here a few times and every time I come in here, I come out with something."
"Love the community. And it's just extremely hard. I've never experienced anything that's harder than having to close," Starnes said.
Starnes plans to stay open until he sells a majority of his inventory, and says he recently sold an engagement ring to the same family for the fifth generation.