When she was a child, Winnie Magnon Marvel never really got a good grasp of what her father had to deal with in running the family's jewelry store in Tampa.
She does now, having been at the helm for the last 13 years. And she doesn't mind going to the elaborate store on South Dale Mabry Highway to carry on a legacy that dates back to the late 19th century and is one of the city's oldest continuing businesses.
“They'll be pulling me out of here feet first,” Marvel says with a laugh.
Magnon Jewelers was actually started in 1890 by Hugh Adams, then was acquired by Marvel's grandfather, Alvin Magnon, in the late 1930s. Her father, Alvin Lee Magnon, later took over the family enterprise, which occupied various store fronts along North Franklin Street in downtown Tampa before moving to the Westshore district and opening its current South Tampa location on Labor Day 1988.
Although the family business has endured several recessions and one Great Depression, Marvel says it was particularly tough to be on the front line of the latest downturn, especially after so many years of prosperity.
“When the economy goes south on you and customers aren't coming through the door, it's very shocking,” she says. She notes that the business had to make adjustments, as did the manufacturers that provide Magnon Jewelers with its broad inventory.
Now with a dozen employees, the store deals in much more than diamonds and watches. Selections also include china and crystal, gift items for Gasparilla and other occasions, and even gourmet candy — an addition Marvel made last year to add to the full-service atmosphere of retailers in past generations.
“We're always looking for niches that other stores don't have,” she says, adding that Magnon Jewelers maintains respectable relationships with other independent jewelry shops in South Tampa.
Traditional jewelry shops are facing increased competition from discount retailers offering more upscale options beyond cheap costume jewelry, but that doesn't concern Marvel. “That's apples and oranges,” she says. “We appeal to customers who want to own pieces for generations.”
Magnon Jewelers celebrated its 120th anniversary in November with an event at the new Tampa Bay History Center, saluting other longtime Tampa businesses such as the Columbia Restaurant, Ferman Automotive Group and Lykes Bros. Marvel says the center has allowed her to learn more about the history of her own business.
The youngest of five children, Marvel has spent 30 years with the jewelry store, waiting for her turn to be in charge, or at least to have a place in the family business.
“That's where patience and persistence paid off,” she says. Her husband, Jay, is also involved in the store and their teenage sons, Davis and Nathan, help out as needed.
Although she now takes off the occasional weekday, Marvel says she remains motivated to go into work at the store and keep her family's legacy going. She will also continue another Magnon tradition when she becomes president of the Rotary Club of Tampa later this year.
“I love the people. That's a lot of it,” she says. “Tampa is a better city than it used to be.”