GARDENDALE — A longtime north Jefferson County business will be closing its doors in two to three months.
“Because of my health and the health of my family, this is our last Christmas,” said Bob Boffa, owner of Gardendale Jewelers.
Boffa, 61, bought the business in 1992. The store opened in 1967.
He has been in the jewelry business since he was 15, when he got a work permit in order to help out his family. His first job was at Uncas Jewelry and Accessories in Providence, R.I., where Boffa grew up.
A huge baseball fan, Boffa said that when he was 18, he was scouted by the Red Sox. However, he never pursued a baseball career because he injured his arm.
“In those days, there was no such thing as rotator cuff surgery,” he said. So he moved to the South, where the heat and humidity were supposed to lend healing properties to his shoulder.
Boffa started school at Montevallo, but then he met a girl named Bobbie. “I forgot all about Montevallo and baseball,” Boffa said with a smile.
The two were married, and Boffa worked for a short time at ACIPCO in Birmingham.
However, he shortly returned to the business he knew. He worked for Zayre for three years, and then Goldbro for 15 years before moving on to Service Merchandise for five years. There, Boffa earned a humanitarian award in 1992, along with two sales awards.
He still views the humanitarian award as one of his biggest accomplishments. He received it shortly before he bought Gardendale Jewelers.
It is a point of satisfaction with Boffa that the Gardendale store has always been family-oriented. Bobbie has worked there, along with their daughter Kathy, who is also a jeweler.
Another of their sons is Chris, a special-needs man who is well known in Gardendale.
“He’s known as the mayor of Our Place,” Boffa said with a smile. Our Place is a family-owned restaurant a couple of doors down from the jewelry store; Chris is a mainstay there.
“That may change,” Boffa said. “But there may still be a Boffa presence if Kathy stays in the area.”
That is still a question mark; Boffa said Kathy wants to remain in the jewelry business but she has not decided where.
Boffa’s health began declining last year after he was bitten on the ear by a brown recluse spider.
After receiving a strong dose of antibiotics, Boffa was not feeling better.
Further tests revealed that he had an extremely low platelet count.
He received two chemotherapy treatments and doctors removed his spleen. Boffa said his body will not accept an infusion of platelets; it causes a dangerous reaction.
He now feels weak and tired much of the time, and he has no feeling in his hands. He often has to leave work in the afternoons because he is exhausted.
Boffa does not know what he will do after he closes the store, and he said that is the scary part.
“I’ve worked since I was 15,” he said. “It’s my life. It’s all I know.”
One thing he is excited about is getting a chance to visit St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Gardendale. Boffa, who lives in Tarrant, said he never felt right abut attending church in the same city where he worked, because he doesn’t think church should be used to promote a business.
In his 46 years in the jewelry business, Boffa has seen changes – and not all for the better.
“I love what I do, because you get the see the best of a family – the engagements, birthdays, anniversaries,” he said. “But now the loyalty is gone. Now a woman wants a one-carat ring to get married. They used to work their way up and build a relationship.”
Boffa said people are more concerned now with price than with quality.
But for him, his customers have always been the heart of his business.
“It has become cookie cutter. That’s not our thing,” he said. “We always wanted to do our best because our customers are family. It’s best now for us to back out.”
Bob and Bobbie Boffa have five children and two grandsons.
“I love Gardendale. I hate leaving,” he said. “These days, staying healthy for my family is a full-time job.”