Napa Valley Jewelers
By Craig Smith
Kent Gardella opened Napa Valley Jewelers twenty-nine years ago, making him the longest operating business owner in downtown Napa. There are lots of factors contributing to the store’s success and longevity, and it all starts with the fact that Napa is Gardella’s home. He raised his family here, has been deeply involved in community nonprofits here, and has become a trusted voice to two generations of Napa customers. “I’ve sold jewelry to folks, watched their kids grow up, and then sold wedding rings to them,” he said. “It’s extremely gratifying to be part of people’s lives like that.”
Gardella moved the shop in 2018, opening at 1300 First Street, Suite 365 in the First Street corridor, next to Eiko’s. The new location is open, airy and beautiful. Upon reopening, Gardella added glass art to their product mix. “Jewelry is art you wear, and this is art for the home. I’ve always loved glass art, and when we found the right artists, adding it to our mix was a no-brainer.”
Foot traffic is way up, because First Street Napa is fairly busting with new and exciting stores. “Twelve stores have opened as our neighbors in just the last year.” Through the ups and downs, Napa Valley Jewelers has always offered first class service. “When you’re selling to people who live in the same town as you, you have to be an expert offering quality merchandise. We don’t pressure anybody. It’s not in our nature, and we’ve also worked hard to establish a reputation of being a comfortable place to shop.”
Gardella sees that trust in action all the time. He recounts a family that came in on the advice of their friends, themselves twenty-year customers. “It was mom, dad and their soon-to-be married son. The parents helped their son pick out an engagement ring. Later, his fiancée came in to look at it, put her hands to her face and said, ‘That’s it!’ She was so happy with the ring, I thought she was going to cry. That’s why we do this.”
Over the years, Gardella has established relationships with many jewelry designers, which allows him to curate an inventory that ranges from classic to contemporary. He’s seen a lot of changes come and go, and pays attention to what’s happening in the market. “When Princess Diana got married and wanted a sapphire surrounded with diamonds, that’s what everybody wanted. Now, with social media, there are so many influencers out there that demand for a particular style changes all the time.”
Regardless of style, Gardella prefers to stick with real stones, especially diamonds, and gold and silver. That’s the case with lab grown diamonds, which came on the scene four or five years ago. Gardella will sell them, but he doesn’t carry them. “They are less expensive than diamonds but start losing value as soon as you buy them.”
After college graduation, Gardella enlisted in the Army and was stationed in Vietnam. There, he worked with drug addicted soldiers, guiding them to rehab programs. After coming home, he became a drug and alcohol counselor, which he did for three years. “It was rewarding work, but it’s really tough, and I burned out. The bank I’d worked for in high school offered me a job, so I went back there.” He relocated to Las Vegas from his home in Reno, and discovered yogurt shops. “I loved the stuff, and the people selling it were making a killing.” He got out of banking, returned to Reno, and opened his own yogurt shop. He laughed as he talked about that: “I didn’t think about it being so much colder in Reno than Las Vegas. Yogurt didn’t do as well there.” He sold the yogurt shop, switched gears and went to work in the jewelry business, eventually opening a store in Santa Clara. The mall in which his store was located sold to new owners who didn’t renew a number of leases – including his. Gardella found a store for sale in Napa. He and his wife Terri didn’t know anyone here, but she liked the town. “So, we took all my inventory and moved it here. We opened in August of ’92.”
Gardella’s nonprofit involvement began with joining the Napa Rotary Club. That group was just starting to work with the Pathway Home at the Vets Center in Yountville, and he immersed himself in the program. “We used to do a bowling night with the guys once a week. That expanded into hiking, filed trips and more.” Gardella partnered with a quilt store and arranged for all the vets in the program to get personalized quilts. Napa Valley Jewelers started a Mother’s Day program, so that everyone’s wife and mother got a gift. He is proud to be part of the Rotary team that sponsors the Cycle for Sight bicycle event.
Gardella was also heavily involved with If Given A Chance, serving as president of that board for three terms. “We found and became mentors for the kids, a lot of whom were on probation or just living in bad circumstances. Many of them wouldn’t have finished high school, but some are now lawyers, doctors, police officers and more.” Gardella also served two terms as president of the Downtown Napa Association board.
When he looks into his crystal ball, Gardella is certain that, even with the internet, there will be a place for brick-and-mortar retailers, “especially clothing and jewelry. People want to try things on to see how they look, and get knowledgeable feedback. With jewelry, people want a place to go to for cleaning and maintenance. You can’t get that online.”
Napa Valley Jeweler is open Monday through Saturday. Stop in, even if just to look around. napavalleyjewelers.com