Peoria is saying goodbye to a long-standing jewelry business this month, as Ideal Jewelers is set to close its doors for the last time.
The family business was started by Isaac A. Morales in 1961 at the crossroads of 83rd and Grand avenues. Since then, it has remained a community staple in fine jewelry sales and watch repair. After Morales passed away, his son, Isaac J. Morales, took over the business and continued his father’s legacy.
The father, Isaac A., arrived in the United States as a young teenager from Mexico, fleeing violence and turmoil. He came to California, where he worked in the fields picking almonds and cotton in the ’40s and ’50s. He longed for a better life, and left his work to come to Peoria — then a small town and farming community. Here, he met his wife, Helen, and studied under a watchmaker, learning the trade for two years before starting his own business. He pitched his business to a local shoe repairman, who gave him space in his store to sell his services.
In 1961, he opened his store in an old Bank of Arizona building, sharing it with an insurance agent and a Realtor. It wasn’t long before the other tenants had moved on, and in 1963 it became what it is today: Ideal Jewelers.
The son, Isaac J., grew up at his father’s side, starting from the young age of 6, and views the store as much a home as a business. He admired his father’s hard work and dedication from an early age.
“He worked really hard, and he worked six days a week from 9 to 6 every day, even on Saturdays. Back in the ’60s, Saturdays were a big, important day, because everybody got paid Friday and Saturday,” he explained. “Everybody was shopping from morning ‘til sundown. Back then there was a grocery store on the corner here. There was the drug store … Old Town Peoria was a very lively little city.”
His father gained success selling fine jewelry — often custom — such as diamond-, ruby- and turquoise-encrusted gold and silver accessories, along with Swiss-made watches and repair services.
With the development of Sun City and the influx of people arriving, by the early ’70s, Ideal Jewelers was booming. The son credits his father’s good looks, charisma and honesty for the family’s success.
“He really loved the customers and he was really engaged. In other words, he was charismatic. He was a lot more charismatic than I am,” he joked. “He was honest, too. People don’t realize in the jewelry business, for people to trust you, that’s the only way you’re going to improve your business because this is a business of trust.”
He added that his father’s jewelry business remained unmatched in the area, operating as the only stand-alone jewelry store within an 8-mile radius. Customers would travel from all over the West Valley — Goodyear, El Mirage and Tolleson — to purchase from Ideal Jewelers.
Families often came into the store asking for repairs on antique pieces, and the son stressed that his father knew a mutual understanding with his customers was necessary for them to feel their pieces were in good hands.
Every other weekend, the father, Isaac A., would drive out to the farming communities in the West Valley and Buckeye and sell to the workers in the fields.
“He knew some of the people — they came from his area around Mexico,” his son said. “He would go over there and take jewelry and watches and sell jewelry to the people, because they couldn’t come down here.”
The son, Isaac J., first started studying watchmaking like his father, but found he preferred making fine jewelry, and ended up apprenticing in Scottsdale to become a goldsmith. Once he became successful on his own, he came back and joined his father once again in running the business.
Even after retiring in the early 2000s, the father struggled to stay away from the career he loved. He would often work in the store still, helping his son until 1 p.m. Isaac J.’s wife, Toni, joined him in the shop, using her skills as a hairdresser to combine their clientele and bring in new customers.
In 2005, the son, Isaac J., was held at gunpoint in his father’s store. The robbers made off with jewelry, but Isaac J. had no thoughts for the gold and silver lost.
“I thought that was the end. … I don’t care what anybody says. They’re afraid of death,” he said. “My family needed me so much. They need me to be there, to raise the kids, the grandkids, for my parents.”
He said the thieves sold the jewelry for drug money, though only one of the robbers was apprehended and charged. For him, the thing that kept the family going after the robbery was their mentality of hard work and dedication to the store.
“It was a big blow to the family,” he said. “We got through it and we thrived, but it was difficult. … It’s hard to talk about it, you know.”
A year later, his father passed away. With the son now near retirement, he is bittersweet about saying goodbye to the building he considered as much of a home as his own.
“Me and my sisters grew up here; my grandchildren grew up here,” he said. “It’s kind of like moving from a house that everybody was attached to, like the house with the picket fence and the tree house with all your good friends.”
Saying goodbye will be hard for the Morales family, but they are passing the building on to another local, and Isaac J. feels he’s found the perfect person.
Maria Ledesma — who owns AZ Party Decor just three doors down from Ideal Jewelers — plans to expand her business to include the space for party rentals. It’s also a family-run business, just like the Morales’ jewelry shop.
“My dad would love that. If he was alive right now, he would be so delighted and happy that this building’s going to turn into some place of joy,” the son said.
Ideal Jewelers will shut its doors for good on August 10, and welcome a new era to the building that has served the Morales family for 58 years.