Beautiful Jewelry From a Dependable Source

Carbaugh Jewelers, 108 E. Seventh St., is the oldest business in historic downtown Auburn and has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, many other economic downturns, changes in fashion trends and fads, and a pandemic.

Mike Littlejohn, the store’s fourth owner, says the business has endured 121 years because it offers customers a unique experience shopping for fine jewelry in the same place where their great-grandparents shopped.

“The life of this store has endured a lot over the years, and we have greatly struggled at times, but we have stayed in business because of the repairs and custom work we do,” he says. “If we just relied on retail sales, we would have closed our doors a long time ago.”

Even during a six-week shutdown because of the pandemic, he continued working, catching up on repairs and custom orders, and allowing curbside pickups.

He says his customer base from a three-state area is loyal because of the quality work they expect and get from him. Littlejohn is known as the one who can best repurpose jewelry.

A customer will often bring in a piece of heirloom jewelry, which has a lot of meaning and beautiful stones, but isn’t worn because it’s not their style. Littlejohn can take the stones and make something new, even if the customer doesn’t want the piece totally melted down and changed.

He recalls one woman whose husband had died. She wanted to make a special piece of jewelry out of their wedding rings, without destroying them.

Littlejohn put one ring inside of the other, on an angle, welded it together to form a circular design within a circle and the woman now wears the rings as a pendant.

“She says she wears it all the time and it is a perfect piece to help her grieve because the rings are intact, but put together in a unique design that has a completely new look.”

For those who appreciate the history of Carbaugh’s, they also understand the meaning of giving the jeweler the time he needs to create. Repairs and custom orders brought in today won’t be finished until early spring, Littlejohn says, and most people are patient and willing to wait.

The full-service store specializes in retail sales, custom work and repairs on all types of jewelry. Services include ring sizing, stone setting, fabrication and restyling, engraving and watch repair. The store offers the newest styles and designs, specializing in diamonds and colored stones from makers like Rego, Bentelli, Aiden, Color Merchants and Bertke Brothers, as well as having a large selection of watches and clocks made by Seiko.

Edward O. Little was the first owner of Little’s Jewelers in 1901. In 1915, Charles Carbaugh, a high school student, started working for him. The two men eventually formed a partnership and ran the business together, until Little passed away in 1955. Charles became the sole owner and changed the name of the store to Carbaugh Jewelers in 1960. Charles’s son and daughter-in-law, Robert and Betty, took over the business when he died in 1962. The couple retired in 1997, at which time they sold the business to Littlejohn.

Littlejohn started working part time for Robert and Betty in 1980 while in high school. He was taking a metals class and needed to do a report on someone in the business. Because he was dating the couple’s daughter, Littlejohn interviewed Robert.

“In the course of the interview, he offered me a job and I jumped at the chance. They taught me a lot and I eventually went to school in Memphis to become a certified jeweler,” he says.

While he and the owner’s daughter went their separate ways, her sister has worked at the store for 42 years and oversees inventory, records and office work.

“When I am able to make something that makes people that happy, it’s not a job. The reward is what people feel and say about their experience with me. It tells me I made the right career choice,” Littlejohn says.

Business hours are 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. ❚