Second Generation of Morgan Brothers Jewelers Thrive on Community and Service
As the hardworking young entrepreneur with a landscaping business opened the door, he started teasing with Mark Morgan, one of the owners of Morgan Brothers Jewelers. Mark bantered with the young man, asking about his family and his business. Then the young man pulled a roll of bills from his front jeans pocket and handed over the cash with a smile, another payment on a keepsake for his family.
As door closed and the young man left, Mark whispered, “He rode the bus with my oldest daughter.”
That’s the kind of community connection that’s kept Morgan Brothers Jewelers in business in Portsmouth, Ohio, since 1948.
Mark, 57, and his older brother Rick, 60, are the second generation of Morgan brothers to run the store at 739 5th Street. Their father Vic and uncle Vern Morgan originally opened the store as a watch repair shop. Vern went into the watchmaking and repair business on the GI Bill after World War II, and invited his younger brother to join him.
The store thrived during the boom years in Portsmouth, when there were six jewelry stores and Marting’s department store was a downtown anchor. The first Morgan Brothers’ location was in a small space on Chillicothe Street, then the business moved to a larger storefront where the CVS pharmacy now stands.
In 1989, Rick and Mark took a big risk, investing in their current space on 5th Street. The new store had about three times as much floor space as the old one. Over the years, Morgan family siblings, cousins, spouses and children have worked in the store, usually over the holidays to help handle the rush.
For Rick Morgan, he’s aware of the legacy of being a family business owner. “When your name is on the door, you take a lot of ownership and commitment to your business, your community and its people,” he said. “We’re where the buck stops.”
The store concentrates on fine jewelry, gifts and fine watches. At one time, they carried more gifts like silver trays and tea services but those have phased out during the years as buying tastes have changed.
Morgan Brothers is one of the last independent downtown retailers left. Years ago, the brothers could count on a lot of window-shopping traffic. During the holidays, a wife would see something she liked in the window and the husband would call the store later to have it gift-wrapped.
“We’re a destination store now,” Rick said. “People don’t park the car downtown and walk around like they used to.”
The brothers, who were both educated in horology – the science of watch and jewelry making – as well as watch and jewelry repair. They’ve tackled some interesting projects including restoring heirloom watches and clocks from of the dashboards of antique cars.
“Even if it wasn’t purchased here, if we can fix it we will fix it,” Rick said.
Nowadays, there aren’t as many watch and jewelry repairs as there were in the days when nearly every man wore a windup wristwatch. “It’s a disposable world but we try not to sell anything that’s disposable,” Rick said.
The Morgan brothers cherish being a part of the community and supporting local businesses and causes. One long-time customer came by selling raffle tickets for a charity and both brothers chipped in $25 each for a ticket. They get their love of community from their father, a former county commissioner and president of the chamber of commerce, who also served with the foundation that launched Shawnee State University.
“Dad was a public servant. He drilled it into us to be thankful for what the community has done for us and to always give back,” Rick said. He also taught them to be fair. “I heard Dad many times try to talk young couples into spending less for their engagement rings,” Mark said. “They told him ‘we have the money’ and he said, ‘You won’t after you get married.’”
Having worked together for decades, the brothers value their relationship and the roles they play.
“We do spend a lot of time around each other and some times that can be an issue, but at other times there’s the faith and trust that your partner and your equal will do everything they can to make sure the business is run properly in your absence,” Rick said.
After all these years working together, the brothers understand their similarities and differences. Mark said Rick is more organized and structured, as seen in the condition of their desks in the back.
“We’re similar in our beliefs about customers and quality and things like that, but we’re different in our likes and dislikes in a lot of ways,” Mark said. “I wear a tie because I have to, he wears a tie because he likes it.”
While there doesn’t seem to be much interest in the next generation of Morgans taking over the family business, the brother will continue to serve and support the community as long as they can. With all the changes in the town and in people’s buying habits, there’s no telling what the future holds.
Morgan Brothers Jewelers
739 5th Street
Portsmouth, OH 45662
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