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By Kate Volkman
Rose quartz, to those who are keen on the metaphysical properties of stones, attracts love. It's also the name of Yvette Chamberland's jewelry store at 3904 24th Street. She explains the name's origin: "People have a good feeling for the stone. I wanted to name the store something that would attract people. And I love stones."
Chamberland's love of stones prompted her to leave her career, first in psychology, then as a clothing designer, to make jewelry. And her desire to work for herself is what prompted her to open Rose Quartz 21 years ago.
The 200-square-foot store, whose walls are covered in shimmering earrings, was formerly a carriage house for the Victorian that now houses St. Clair's Liquors at the corner of 24th and Sanchez streets. Between Rose Quartz and a second carriage house, currently occupied by Bay Castle Cleaners, there once was an icehouse. "People would deposit quarters in the machine on the sidewalk, and I'd hear this chain going squeak, squeak, squeak, clunk, and the ice would drop into the holder," Chamberland remembers.
Between the days of carriage houses and Chamberland's occupancy, the space was used as a one-car garage, and then it hosted a series of seasonal merchants and the early home of Ocean Front Walkers (the sock and pajama store now a half-block up the street). When Chamberland first moved in in 1986, the storefront was still a garage, which she tented with billowy white linen, causing the tiny shop to look like a Middle Eastern bazaar.
Finally the landlords remodeled about seven years ago, and the garage was transformed into a store with a real ceiling and window. "The nice thing about not having a garage door anymore and having a real window and a door is that little kids don't come in and ask me if I park my car in here at night," Chamberland jokes.
The kinds of jewelry featured at Rose Quartz, as well as the number of items Chamberland carries, have changed over the years, too. When she first opened, the only jewelry she sold was her own, and the space was rather bare. Now she carries designers from the world over, and the store is brimming with every kind of jewelry imaginable, from earrings to bracelets, to pins and necklaces.
"Yvette has upgraded the style," says longtime employee Jody Hayes. "When I first came here, we'd never have had something from an elegant designer like Janice Gerardi."
Chamberland describes Gerardi's work as "detailed yet simple. It's the way she combines colors and stones, like this necklace of rose quartz, lemon citrine, and pink topaz."
Another favorite line is Silver Seasons. "All of the designer's molds are taken from nature," Chamberland explains. There's mimosa, cranberry, bittersweet, olive, azalea, cherry, and even edamame--the green soybeans offered as appetizers in Japanese restaurants.
"People's biggest misconception about jewelry is that it's too expensive," Chamberland laments. "But once people come in, they actually find there are so many things that are affordable." Prices range from $3 for sterling silver earrings, to $300 for a 14k gold ring with a semiprecious stone.
On a recent afternoon, James Lick Middle School student Hedda Carney dashes in to buy a present for her friend's 12th birthday. She carefully selects earrings designed like dice and easily pays the $8 price tag. Her mom, Deena Zacharin, remarks, "For little girls this age, it's nice to be able to buy unique earrings that aren't too expensive, because they're still young and they don't want to spend a fortune. And they're sterling silver, too."
Chamberland agrees. "Jewelry can be fun, and add color and art to your life."
"I think of beauty as a self-love thing," says Hayes. "It's an expression of oneself. You don't have to have a great body to wear jewelry. It makes you feel good, makes you look a little prettier. Guys go to the hardware store and buy a little tool, and that makes them happy. I think it's equivalent. Jewelry makes women feel feminine and beautiful."
Both Hayes and employee Sarah Soward are artists. Hayes says she has more of a classical style, while Soward is "very hip. She likes snakes and wears pink in her hair. She's very helpful for people who want things like that. I'm not as cool."
Yet Hayes shines when it comes to helping customers select colors to complement coloring and clothes, Chamberland says. "If a customer describes what someone looks like, she can put something together for them."
"I start with color just because oftentimes that eliminates 80 percent anyway," Hayes explains. "This lady who just came in had a chocolate brown dress, and she said, 'Should I buy a chocolate brown necklace? My friends say that's the thing to do.' And I said, 'Sounds dreadful. Why would you want brown, brown, brown, and brown, if you've got brown hair?' So I said, 'How about pink?' So we started playing with pink, and she ended up getting a bunch of pink things that worked."
Customer Marla Martin peruses the jewelry cases and tries to keep her hands in her pockets. "It's hard not to buy everything in here," she says. "Yvette has so much inventory and so many different styles. I love jewelry. This is the greatest little store in Noe. And Isabella is one of the reasons."
Isabella is Chamberland's dog of nine years. She lounges on the floor and gratefully accepts a pat from any customer who offers it. A rottweiler-poodle mix (Chamberland often refers to her as a "rottendoodle"), Isabella is Chamberland's constant companion, and the dog's image, along with that of her predecessor, Amber the golden retriever, graces the sandwich board outside.
"A lot of people come in and ask if I sell dog jewelry because of my sign, but I don't," Chamberland smiles. "It's just a way for people to remember who we are and to notice the store."
And they do. "When we're not here, more people come in and ask for my dog by name than ask for me. Everybody's always asking, 'Where's Isabella?' No one comes in and says, 'Where's that cute little Yvette today?'"
Edith Piaf purrs from the stereo as Chamberland takes a moment's rest between customers. She leans back, takes a long drink of water, and reflects on her business, which has lasted more than two decades. "There have been ups and downs--I made it through the dot-com bust. But I've been really lucky. Since I've been at this location for a number of years, I have enough established clients who will come back from wherever they've moved in the Bay Area and abroad.
"Plus, people in this neighborhood are so nice. I've heard people who work in large department stores downtown complain that they often have difficult, irate customers. That happens so rarely here. People here are respectful. They're warm and friendly. It's just a great neighborhood to have a business."
Kate Volkman is writing a series of articles on longtime businesses in Noe Valley. She also helps families and companies preserve their history. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.