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More MS news articles for April 2004

Diamonds aren't forever

Diessl Jewelers closes its doors after 70 years

Thursday, April 15, 2004
James Dornbrook
The Examiner

After 70 years in business, Diessl Jewelers in Independence is closed.

Owner Brenda Cline said she decided to close the business due to health problems. She has multiple sclerosis, and the daily grind of running a business was starting to wear on her health.

"I've always believed that obstacles should be considered as opportunities, but now I'm learning there are some obstacles you just can't get around. For me and my business, (multiple sclerosis) was one of those obstacles."

Cline said she started thinking about retiring in March, because her jewelry insurance policy expired at the end of the month. The policy costs $1,000 per month and lasts for a year, so she either had to close the store then or wait another year. She didn't think her health could handle the trials, tribulations and heavy responsibility of being a business owner for another year.

Cline said she was able to pay off all of her vendors, and the businesses had no debts when it closed. She also found jobs for all her employees.

Cline decided not to have a retirement sale, because she was concerned about bringing in a closeout corporation. She said these companies often bring in merchandise that wouldn't live up to the quality standards her business maintained since it opened 70 years ago.

She also decided against selling the business, its name or her client list ­ even though she received several offers. She did this out of respect for her friend and mentor Walter Diessl, who founded Diessl Jewelers in 1934 in Kansas City. She wanted to ensure a high level of quality continued to be associated with the Diessl name.

Cline started working for Walter Diessl in 1975, when she was still a senior at St. Mary's High School. She worked mornings, after school and weekends. She didn't realize it at the time, but this was the beginning of 30 years with Diessl Jewelers.

"My first year there was my most favorite time. I would sit next to Walter and ask him questions. A lot of times they were questions people just aren't supposed to ask, but I was young and didn't know any better," Cline said. "He was German and one time I asked him why he moved to Independence out of all the places he could have gone around the world."

So Diessl told her his story.

Walter Diessl was born in 1906 in Augsburg, Germany. He was sent to a boarding school at age 10, where he started to learn the jewelry trade. He headed to the United States in 1923, traveling through Ellis Island. He was robbed at the station, and all he had left was a jeweler's tool kit and the address of a Swiss uncle named F.A. Burri, who owned a jewelry store in Kansas City. Some fellow German immigrants put together enough money for Diessl to travel to Kansas City.

Diessl served as an apprentice at Burri's store, where he met a master jeweler named Hubert Webbink. Webbink taught Diessl how to speak English. In 1927, Diessl became a citizen of the United States.

When Burri died in 1934, Diessl and Webbink continued working at the store throughout World War II. In 1945, the pair decided to move to Independence Square, where they opened Diessl Jewelers at 100 1/2 W. Maple Avenue, above the old Crown Drug Store.

Harry and Bess Truman were customers of the store. Diessl often related memories of encounters with the Trumans to Brenda Cline. In one instance, Cline said Diessl told her about Harry Truman bringing in a clock to the store for repair. Apparently, Bess Truman did not like the clock. She asked Diessl to tell her husband the clock could not be fixed and to offer him a different clock. Diessl said he was concerned about lying to the President, but did as Bess asked. Diessl kept the President's clock in trade.

In 1952, Diessl took his first trip back to Germany in 30 years, traveling on the Queen Mary. There he visited a sister, Mena Eberl, who was his only known remaining relative. His sister had a daughter, and Diessl kept in contact with them throughout his life.In 1956, Diessl moved his business to 226 W. Maple Avenue. The building abutted the Jackson County Library at the back of the store. In Aug. 1965, there was a high profile burglary at the store, where thieves broke in through the library and chiseled open the safe. The thieves got away with about $12,500 to $15,000 in jewelry. The FBI investigated the case, but the result of the investigation could not be determined.

In 1980, Diessl Jewelry moved to 214 W. Maple Avenue, which is the current location of Dave's Deli. By the end of the 1980s, Diessl's health started to fade. He was wheelchair-bound and moved into Independence Manor Care Center. Brenda Cline (then-Lauderback) took over management of the store and often visited with Diessl, taking him to various events.

When Walter Diessl died in March 1994, Cline inherited 50 percent of the business. The other half went to Paul Parnell, who was in his 70s and didn't have much interest in running the store. Cline decided to buy out Parnell that year.

In 1996, Cline received the Small Business Person of the Year Award from the Small Business Association.

Cline kept the store at 214 W. Maple Street until March 2002, when she decided to move to 18675 E. 39th Street. The move cost about $30,000, but rent was cheaper and she believed the new location had better visibility.

About a week after moving into the new store, the state closed the ramp at M-291 and 39th Street as part of a road construction project. Cline said her landlord never told her the construction project was about to begin. Traffic in the area was reduced to a crawl all summer long. The road was eventually opened in mid-November and business got back to usual.

Cline said once the construction project ended, the move to the new location paid off. Her walk-in traffic increased about 10 percent and the business was much more visible.

"I could have made it there if I would have stayed," Cline said.

Her health started to become an issue, so Cline decided it was time to close the store.

"Walter once told me that the secret to a small business is the owner has to be there. I always adhered to that advice, but just can't anymore," Cline said. "I would advise my customers to continue dealing with an independent jeweler, where the owner works at the business. A long-term relationship with a jeweler like this will give the customer a better value for their money."

There are three other independent jewelers in the area started by people who worked for Diessl Jewelers at one time or another: Eskews Fine Jewelry (450 S.E. Missouri 291), Especially Jewelry (2400 Lee's Summit Road) and Champagne Jewelers in Liberty.

Copyright © 2004, The Examiner