If you’ve ever stepped inside Bailey’s Fine Jewelry, you know they immediately treat you like family. That’s because for Bailey’s, family is everything. We sat down with Clyde Bailey himself, a second generation business owner, to learn about his family and the legacy they’ve created.
Bailey’s was founded in 1948 by Clyde Bailey Sr. and his wife Ann Bailey. And when we use the phrase “small beginnings,” there is no exaggeration. It all started in the town of of Rocky Mount, NC which at the time had a population of less than 30,000. And in a store 100 feet deep and only 11 feet wide.
Clyde Sr. was a watchmaker and jeweler and his wife was the bookkeeper. And almost from the beginning, Clyde Jr. was there.
“For the most part, they took me to work almost every day. I kinda grew up in the store,” says Clyde.
The husband and wife team did everything from soup to nuts for the small business. From watchmaking to jewelry repair to accounting to selling records.
You read that correctly.
When Clyde’s father recognized Beatlemania was fast approaching in the early ‘60s, he thought it would be a good idea to sell records to bring in customers to the jewelry store.
“People came in like crazy on the weekends to buy our records,” says Clyde. “They were just buying stuff like a frenzy and our store was exciting. Every weekend, it was just amazing to be in our store, and I just saw the activity. Every day was brand new. It was never the same. It was just wonderful, one broken watch, one piece of jewelry, people wanting to buy an engagement ring. Somebody wanted to buy some records. Somebody wanted to put some things on layaway for Christmas, and there was always action going on in the store, so it was kinda like a three-ring circus, a very small three-ring circus.”
Unfortunately, his father passed away when Clyde Jr. was only ten years old. And that left his mother in charge of the family business.
“My mother loves people. That might be the best thing I can tell you,” says Clyde. “My mother loves having conversations with people, and my mother loves helping people.”
Clyde sees how she loves the interaction of being with people. Helping people gave her a sense of purpose.
“My mother loves the jewelry business,” says Clyde. “She still gets dressed up to this day. And she still drives, which is a little scary.”
Today “Mama” Ann is 91-years young. She lives by the store in Rocky Mount and she still sits down and chats with customers. She loves to tell old stories, and people love to hear them.
“It’s amazing how many people know my mother because they say, ‘Do you remember when I was a little girl or I was a young boy? My mom and daddy brought me in here, and I remember you Mrs. Bailey and you were at the counter helping me. In fact, this watch right here was my daddy’s and you sold it to my daddy and he wore it for 40 years, and now he gave it to me. I’m still wearing it.’”
And Ann Bailey still remembers those encounters.
“My mother tells people about their own parents or even grandparents, and they soak it up. They love hearing the stories, and it stimulates my momma and they love it,” says Clyde.
Unexpected Career Choices
Something you might be surprised to hear is that Clyde never thought he’d be in the jewelry business.
He remembers in school, they would give the students a questionnaire asking what they wanted to be when they grew up. And every year Clyde gave the same answer: racecar driver.
“I was thinking about NASCAR before I even knew what the word NASCAR meant,” says Clyde. “I wanted to be a racecar driver, but then I fell in love.”
At the age of 15, Clyde met Jane. At 18, they were married right out of high school. And Clyde wondered what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
“Well, I hadn’t been racing, and then I woke up one day and I said, ‘I’m gonna be a watchmaker like my daddy.’”
Clyde started attending a watchmaking program at Wayne Community College. It was a two and a half year program, but because he had such a burning desire, he tested out early.
“Somebody asked one time, “Well, did your daddy ever leave you anything?” And I said, “Yes, my daddy left me an opportunity—the foundation of a business.
“It was a solid foundation because my mom and dad they were very honest, hardworking people like everybody was, and so I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I’m gonna be the best jeweler that I could be for everybody, not only for myself.”
Taking Over the Family Business
Clyde speaks fondly of those early days.
“It was exciting. Every day was exciting,” says Clyde. “That little bitty store, if you had five people in there, it was a lot of people. But there could be 20 and 30 on a Saturday. And the place was packed, and there was a buzz going on. We were still selling records in the early years.”
And then in 1976, the business reached a turning point. Clyde bought the store from his mother.
“I realized that we needed to start carrying higher quality jewelry than what we were carrying,” says Clyde. “And I felt like it was time that the record business—my daddy’s vision to help bring traffic—had accomplished its purpose. And it was time for us to just stop selling records.”
The other opportunity he had was to give his mother the chance to travel.
“All she’d known is work, and she got to the point where she felt like life was gonna pass her by and she wasn’t getting to see things that friends of hers were telling her about,” says Clyde. “To Egypt, to Russia, I mean every country you can think of, my mother went to those countries. She’s ridden elephants and she’s ridden camels. She’s seen so many things that I’ve never seen.”
And at the same time, it gave Clyde the opportunity to take the business his mother and father had established and run with it.
“I had my own thoughts, and plans, and visions for the future of Bailey’s that were different from her generation,” says Clyde. “It comes in the deal. Another generation comes with another set of vision for something, and she gave me the opportunity to do so by selling it to me.”
Clyde describes his opportunity to open a store in Cameron Village as, “a business deal made in heaven.”
Clyde recognized he had something special in Rocky Mount when people started driving to his store from Raleigh. He knew he was coming to The Triangle. It was just a matter of the right opportunity.
Jerry Young and his wife Janie owned Henry J. Young’s, a jewelry store in the spot that Bailey’s is at now. Janie tragically passed away. And Jerry, left with four children to raise by himself, was distraught.
Clyde and Jerry had a mutual friend Dean Smith (no, not that Dean Smith). They were all jewelers and were close with one another.
“Jewelers converse with other jewelers, especially independent jewelers,” says Clyde. “We’re like a fraternity if you will, and we have each other’s best interests.”
Jerry was confiding in Dean, and Dean was trying to give him encouragement. Dean also knew that Clyde was getting ready to make a move to open a store in Raleigh.
One day, Clyde got a call from Dean.
“Dean said something real simple, ‘Clyde, you’re gonna be getting a phone call today. Make sure you’re gonna take it. It’s gonna change your life.’”
It was much later in the day, and Clyde had almost forgotten about Dean’s message, but at 5:00 p.m. that evening, Clyde received a call from Jerry. And as soon as he heard Jerry’s voice, he knew what it was about.
Clyde met at Jerry’s house the following Tuesday and Jerry had a yellow legal pad. It was a proposal to merge their companies together and it included all of Jerry’s terms including his salary and his staff’s. He told Clyde that if he agreed to it and have the deal drawn up by a lawyer by that Friday, they could shake hands and be business partners.
A deal that quick might sound suspicious to some, Clyde’s lawyer included.
The next morning, Clyde went to his attorney at Poyner Spruill in Rocky Mount.
He said, “So you’re telling me this piece of paper is what he wants?”
Clyde said it was.
The lawyer said, “Okay, but I promise you this isn’t gonna work. If this is the deal, I’ve never seen anything like it in my career.”
Clyde drove back to Raleigh and handed it to Jerry. Jerry was a man of his word. They both agreed, and Clyde asked him why he wanted the deal done so quickly.
It was because he wanted to make payroll for his employees and he wouldn’t have been able to do it without Clyde’s help.
“The business was worn out because Jerry was worn out because he’d lost the love of his life,” says Clyde.
But with Clyde’s help, Jerry’s customers came back in droves.
“Cameron Village was the best location, and we came to partner with Jerry because he had established such an honest business, by being such an honest man, and so it was just a natural fit for us,” says Clyde.
Jerry has since passed away but his memory lives on and Clyde remembers him fondly.
“I’d never envisioned it happening, but we got that phone call that day from Dean Smith. I was being blessed and Jerry was being blessed, and so we helped each other out.”
The Next Generation
Clyde and his wife never built this business with any expectation that any of their children would be in the business. They were doing what they loved every day. And they wanted their children to find their own passion. And yet, that passion, one way or another, became the family jewelry business.
Their son Trey’s desire to work for the family business was a big surprise, especially to Clyde.
“He’d always talked to me about wanting to own a restaurant and a bar. I was sure he’d own one,” says Clyde. “But Jane would bring him in the store as a kid and he’d see all the activity. So I guess he was getting his feet wet.”
Trey already had a BA in business administration from Elon University so the only thing he would need to do was become a graduate of gemology. He returned with the degree and a new love. He met his future wife Marci.
Clyde says, “Trey left to go learn about gems and he came home with one.”
Trey didn’t want to work under his father, so he said, “Where can I go to be the most help?”
Clyde recommended he move to Greenville, where they had opened a new store.
“You won’t be under me, and you can kind of spread your own wings,” said Clyde.
So they moved to Greenville and Trey was able to flourish bringing success and ideas to the company.
And it doesn’t stop there. Clyde’s daughter Morgan started the giftware department. And her husband Doug left the banking industry to be their Director of Development and Human Resources.
Clyde’s daughter-in-law Marci, a graduate gemologist, is also a part of the family business and heads up their Antique and Estate Jewelry department.
Clyde’s sister Cindy represents them in their Rocky Mount location. The town where it all started, in 1948. Cindy greets and assists patrons for all their special occasions and shares the legacy of her parent’s story.
And the family is continuing to grow. Trey and his wife Marci had a son on Mother’s Day last year—Clyde Clifton Bailey the IVth. (Trey stands for “the third,” if you were wondering.)
“We laugh together. We cry together and pray together,” says Clyde. “Our family gets to serve other people’s families, and having family members in our business versus some conglomerate, that’s even better. No one can translate the heart and soul of Bailey’s better than a family member can, and we have that opportunity.”
Eagle, Globe, and Anchor
“One of our ten core values is what we do serves a purpose. We serve a noble cause in people’s lives, and we get reminded of it all the time,” says Clyde.
As you can imagine, there are many incredible stories that have happened inside the walls of Bailey’s. From proposals to celebrating a newborn to those just-because gifts that brighten someone’s day. However, if you ask Clyde, there is one story that stands out from the rest. And a warning: you may want to have tissues handy because this one will pull on your heartstrings.
A couple came into the store one day. Their young son was a Marine sergeant who lost his life in Afghanistan. They had him cremated and they wanted a piece of jewelry so that his mother could carry around some of her son’s ashes with her.
The designer spent countless hours consulting with the couple to make sure the piece was absolutely perfect. It was going to be the official emblem of the United States Marine Corps: the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor.
“It had to be quality, like everything we work on,” says Clyde. “What we make for people is not just for the moment or even for one person’s lifetime. It’s for their lifetime to enjoy, love, and appreciate. But we make things that last for the next generation.”
“It represents who that person was or who the people were, and what the occasion was. There’s a story that comes with a piece of jewelry, just like the moment.”
The time came, and it was ready.
“It turned out magnificent,” says Clyde.
The family arrived to pick it up and the Marine’s father was prepared to pay, but Clyde had other plans in mind.
“My heart told me there could be no charge. That young man had paid the ultimate price for my freedom, your freedom, and everybody in the store’s freedom. So I told them, ‘You know what? How can I charge you anything? There is no price. He paid the ultimate price,’ And we gave it to them.”
“We’re here for you in the good times, the great times, and we’re here for you in the most tragic times in your life,” says Clyde. “If you need us, we’re here for you. It’s far more than just a retail business, and we’re far more than just jewelers. We give people our hearts and they give us theirs in return.”
The Bailey’s Legacy
This is just one example of what they love to do at Bailey’s.
“We’re privileged to be in this business,” says Clyde. “It is amazing. It is far more than a trend. There are too many people who go into work to see how much money they can make. What a pity.”
“I want to feel like that people can truly trust us from beginning to end, and that at the end of our day, we had the opportunity to make somebody happy and to bring joy to their lives, and do it in a manner that was filled with honesty and integrity.”
“And so that’s a legacy that I can compliment my mother and daddy on, and it really is my obligation to carry on that legacy. I think I owe that to them, and I hope my kids will see it the same way. Time will tell.”
We’d like to thank Mr. Bailey for taking the time to share his heart and soul with us. And we hope you enjoyed hearing his story.