PARKERSBURG - After providing faithful service and quality items to the Parkersburg area for 144 years, J. Wetherell and Son Jewelers closed its doors to business on Friday.
"It's all because of business downtown," said owner Ernest Whitehead. "We've been losing money for a long while - quite a few years - and we just can't stay open with so few people coming in."
Whitehead said that business started to slump when the Grand Central Mall opened in 1972 and more and more businesses either moved out of the downtown district or closed.
Ernest Whitehead, owner of J. Wetherell and Son Jewelers on Market Street, stands behind the front counter for one of the last times on Friday evening. As of 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, the store’s doors were closed for the final time after 144 years in business. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
"Honestly, business in downtown Parkersburg is not very prolific and I just couldn't keep the store open," he said.
Whitehead is the third owner of J. Wetherell and Sons Jewelers, which opened at 417 Market St. in 1866, and said the jewelry business is all he knows.
"Even though I'm 82-years-old, I'd be happy to proceed in this profession, but the economy just won't let me," he said.
Whitehead said he began working for Col. C.E. Morrison, a Wetherell relative and second owner of the jewelry store, when he was 15-years old and in need of a job.
"I got into the jewelry business by accident because I wanted to work," Whitehead said. "I started working for Col. Morrison in 1944 and just stayed."
Whitehead started by washing windows and transferring merchandise from the Wetherell store and G.E. Smith Sons Jewelry then located at the 809 Market St. store, which was also owned by Morrison. In 1946, the building at 417 Market St. was sold and the two stores were combined under the Wetherell name.
"I worked my way up in the business by cleaning clocks and then I became a watch maker, which I still do sometimes," he said.
For the past 67 years, Whitehead has spent six days a week at J. Wetherell and Son, with the exception of three years spent in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Korean War.
"I came back from the war and came right back to J. Wetherell and Son," he said. "This is all I know."
In 1954, Whitehead became a registered jeweler after he received training at the Geological Institute of America in California.
"I bought the business off of Col. Morrison's estate because I couldn't stand to see it close," Whitehead said. "It means a lot to me."
When he purchased the business, Whitehead said he kept the original name because it came with a stellar reputation and a long history.
"Stores like Buttermore and Sons and Baker and Baker in Marietta came out of J. Wetherell and Son," he said. "Those jewelers would work here and get their training and move on to their own stores, which says something about how respected the business used to be."
With the closure Whitehead said the chapter of J. Wetherell and Son would close.
"My history with downtown Parkersburg and this business does from street cars to everyone having their own car," he said. "I've seen a lot change and so has this store."