Store shelves full of rocks, gems, fossils

Kitty Laubscher shows customer Jared Roberts a cherry quartz orb. Luke and Kitty Laubscher at the owners of Creekside Rock & Gems in Bellefonte.
Kitty Laubscher shows customer Jared Roberts a cherry quartz orb. Luke and Kitty Laubscher at the owners of Creekside Rock & Gems in Bellefonte. CDT photo

When you have more than 40 tons of minerals in storage, it’s safe to say you have an affinity for rocks.

Luke Laubscher, owner of Creekside Rock & Gems, started his love of minerals as a child living with his grandmother in Michigan. One day, he said, she took him out to a hill with a bucket, showed him a beautiful stone and told him she’d like to have a bucket full.

Wanting to make her happy, he said, he worked all day to fill the bucket. From that point on, he was always hunting for stones, gathering and collecting them wherever he could.

“It’s just something I’ve always done,” he said.

Shortly after, he said, he became interested in stone cutting. During trips to Traverse City, Mich., he came across a man who cut and polished stones. These trips led to trades of a bucket of stones for a necklace or earrings for his mom or sister.

After a number of trades, he said, the man told him that, because he hung out so much, he might as well learn to do something. While his grandmother or sister shopped, he would work on cutting stones.

It became an all-consuming passion, he said.

When Laubscher met his wife, Kitty, who runs the store with him, he said it was nothing to hop in the car and travel all across the U.S., Mexico and Canada digging for stones for fun. This led to craft and stone shows where they could sell what they’d collected.

Laubscher, a former Bald Eagle Area School District art teacher, was nearing retirement in 1997 when he noticed a Bellefonte store being emptied out, he said. Thinking it would be a nice place to put his and his wife’s work, they opened their own shop.

Eighteen years later, it’s still going strong.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “We’ve met a lot of super nice people by doing it.”

A lot of what is found in Creekside was found or crafted by Laubscher personally, he said. Now that he’s retired, he hopes the store will soon be at least 95 percent stones he’s provided himself.

Shelves are adorned with raw and cut gems, stones tumbled smooth, fossils and jewelry. Quartz, celestite, amethyst and opals sit in custom mounts as rings, necklaces and earrings.

“I never stop ‘ooh-ing and ah-ing’ over the different stones,” he said, “because they’re all unique and they’re all wonderful.”

Laubscher does his own custom gemstone cutting, a delicate process that he says can completely change the value of a stone.

While studying at Penn State, he was working on cutting a stone when his professor congratulated him on costing him $50,000, he said. Although the stone he was working on was not valuable, his professor explained that cutting away just a single carat can reduce the price of a precious stone, like an emerald, by as much as several thousand dollars.

He can take a stone from a raw state to a faceted cut within a day, he said, but some cuts are easier to do than others. The standard brilliant cut, typically seen on diamonds, is easier than something like a Portuguese cut, which requires more than 300 steps.

“Is it bad to say it’s not nice because it’s tough?” he said. “No, because the finished stone looks gorgeous.”

As a general rule, tumbling stones makes them more affordable to kids, he said. A cut stone can be worth several thousand dollars, he said, or you can tumble it and it can be 25 cents to a few dollars.

“It’s fun seeing what they go in as and how pretty they are coming out,” he said.

The most expensive stone he said he ever worked on was a 106-carat emerald. By the time he was finished, it had been cut down to 46 carats.

He never judges the value of a stone, he said. His job is to cut.

Creekside has no website, and although Laubscher would like to build one at some point, he said he enjoys the personal touch of someone actually coming into his store.

“Being in the store, and watching their expression and seeing their eyes glimmer when they purchase something they think is neat, I like that aspect of it,” he said.

The most popular items sold are often tumbled stones, geodes and fossils, he said. People are buying more sterling silver since the price of gold has gone up as well.

While parts of Laubscher’s collection could go for hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said, he has no interest in being a millionaire.

“For me, it’s never been about the money,” he said. “It’s about the love of the rocks.”