Miska Jewelers closing up shop

Stephen Miska helps Ruthie Irwin as she looks at jewelry April 22, 2015. Miska, owner of Miska Jewelers in State College, is retiring from the jewelry business.
Stephen Miska helps Ruthie Irwin as she looks at jewelry April 22, 2015. Miska, owner of Miska Jewelers in State College, is retiring from the jewelry business. CDT photo

Miska Jewelers owner Stephen Miska has listened to his customers’ stories for 24 years.

Star-crossed lovers have walked into his shops on Fraser Street and in Boalsburg looking for the perfect engagement ring. Couples have celebrated their anniversaries. And graduates have commemorated their years at local schools and Penn State with rings.

Miska Jewelers’ story, however, will come to an end.

Miska announced Tuesday he will retire from retail and relocate to Washington, D.C., with his wife, Jenny, who will be the gift officer for The Lab School of Washington, a school for special needs children. His stores will close after inventory is sold, which he expects to happen in the next few weeks.

“It’s crazy, because when we put the announcement out we ended up spending most of our night answering emails from people all over the country,” Miska said. “It was amazing, and I just couldn’t believe that. I’ve got a business downtown and in Boalsburg, where it’s not like people are just walking by a corner and stop in. Our business has been all referral- and destination-driven. You have to want to come here. This hasn’t sunk in yet.”

He moved to State College from Ford City in 1982 and gained loyal customers who followed from shop to shop in the area.

He stopped in the then small town-and-gown community for a meal on a road trip east the year before.

“Downtown State College was quaint and charming and vibrant, and the next spring I told my then-wife, Donna, we should move out here,” Miska said. “We had a family in western Pennsylvania, and in the late 70s and early 80s the economy wasn’t great with a lot of manufacturing facilities shutting down. I didn’t know if I wanted to raise a family in that environment, so we moved to State College when it was a lot smaller.”

Like the community, Miska’s reputation as a skilled goldsmith and jeweler grew, prompting him to start his business in 1991.

His late father, Justin Miska, was a watchmaker who owned a jewelry business in Ford City where Miska got his start in the industry.

“I’d go in on the weekends to do shipping and cleaning and gold work, probably when I was 14 years old,” he said. “My dad had a goldsmith that worked for him, and I was intrigued by it, the art of it and how you could take a chunk of metal and make it something pretty and shiny. I just took a huge interest in it.”

Miska’s father got to see him open the first shop in State College, a time he recalled fondly.

“He came from a small-town jewelry store and got to see all the people in here and how busy we were, and he was always really proud and so was my mom who passed away earlier this year,” he said. “Our last two years have been our best two years, profit wise. We’ve just continued to have our best years ever. So, we figured why not go out when it’s really good?”

Miska’s work isn’t over yet.

He has more emails to respond to and more stories to be heard in his shops.

“People have been saying they took off work to make sure they came in, and it just isn’t fathomable,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how many people have wanted to say thank you to me and everyone that has worked with us. I still love this, you know. I still love this.”