News

Autumn Gold founder John Wallace rocks

AUTUMN GOLD OWNER John Wallace, at ease behind the counter in the Middlebury store he founded in 1998, shares some of his knowledge about gemstones, jewelry and operating a business. The store’s name comes from the fall colors Wallace saw when he first moved to Vermont. Independent photo/William Haig

You have to be versatile, you have to adapt. You have to give the people what they want.
—John Wallace

MIDDLEBURY — Consider Autumn Gold Jewelry, the shop on Main Street founded and owned by Cornwall resident John Wallace.

Autumn. Gold. Isn’t the name of the store just nice?

Wallace, 57, recalls the moment he came up with it.

“The story behind the name is that we opened up in the fall of 1998 when the beautiful Vermont landscape was ablaze with the colors of autumn,” Wallace said. “My wife and I were brainstorming, and since we intended upon working with gold, the name sounded right.”

If the anecdote sounds artistic, it makes sense: When he’s not running Autumn Gold, Wallace plays the drums in several bands that play regular gigs around Vermont. He’s currently involved with seven groups, including the Horse Traders and the Midnight Ramblers.

But before we can get into the music, I head through Autumn Gold with its owner, 23 years after its founding in 1998.

SET IN STONE

Wallace has a bounce in his step as he tours me around the building, gladly stopping to highlight a diamond or ruby or sapphire that catches his eye all of a sudden.

It’s a lovely store: Several counters hold a profusion of rings and bracelets, glinting in the light. There are only a few customers in here right now, but Wallace says traffic at 61 Main. St. is variable. Some days he’ll have two customers, other days dozens. He is ecstatic about the sheer variety of customers Autumn Gold attracts.

“I know most of the people in Addison County have come in here at one point or another,” Wallace says. “College students, they’ll come in in undergrad programs, they’ll come back and see us. Lots of couples.”

As he whisks through the counter and its shining contents, he offers all sorts of trivia about his stones.

Did you know:

“Tourmaline can be any color. It was discovered in Sri Lanka, and … (it) means multi-colored.”

“Sapphires and rubies are all aluminum dioxide. People don’t realize it’s all the exact same mineral.”

Beyond his bubbly personality, Wallace runs the store seriously. Twice during the interview, he took a break from answering questions to assist clients. He helped one woman who came in with a cost assessment of a green-blue sapphire, keeping a steady eye with on his jewelers loupe as he examined the stone in the backroom to determine if it was synthetic or natura.

“The synthetic sapphire would be hundreds compared to thousand,” he informs the customer.

This made Wallace reflect on the charm of Autumn Gold, which he attributes mostly to the strong relationship the store has with its customers.

“We have a personal relationship with a lot of the folks,” he says, noting that some come from New York state. “We have a lot of loyal customers from across the lake.”

Reluctant to push Autumn Gold in a more digital direction, Wallace explained his rationale for keeping business primarily in the store, rather than creating a commercial website.

“Today’s a world with internet shopping,” he says. “We need to make it that people want to come into this brick-and-mortar store we work in.”

When Autumn Gold had to suspend much of its business during the pandemic’s height, the store was assisted by a government Paycheck Protection Program loan, a program meant to support small businesses hurt by COVID’s economic costs.

“(The PPP loan) kept us afloat because we were compelled to close for about six weeks,” Wallace said. “We were able to sneak into the studio, able to get custom work done.

“But it was challenging,” he added. “People still shopped, we delivered stuff to their homes. We did some internet work over the phone. I attribute that to the passion of Middlebury and Addison County residents who wanted to see local business survive.”

Wallace added that although the store’s finances took a hit from COVID, he feels Autumn Gold is right now only 15% away from where it should be fiscally.

Autumn Gold is now back in operation with its usual staff of two other jewelers, Jeff Gallott and Josh Riney, and sales associate David Wimmer. Wallace’s son, Jack, 15, is working a summer job at the store, too.

Another unique aspect of Autumn Gold is its $30,000 laser welder, which is used for repairs and alterations.

Lasers, according to Wallace, aren’t all that common in the jewelry business. 

“It takes some level of skill to work (the laser),” Wallace says. “We just really wanted to have that cutting-edge technology.”

Gallott, who’s worked at Autumn Gold since he was in eighth grade, is the primary laser operator.

Gallott said his favorite part of the job is learning the stories behind the jewels he works with.

“You can hear some emotional stories,” Gallott added. “Where they got (the jewels) from, who they got it from.”

In one job a client brought in gems from rings that had belonged to her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

“We were incorporating the leftover stones from all of them into one ring because she wanted all of that family story into that one ring,” Gallott said.

RINGO OF MAIN STREET

Making and marketing jewelry is only one facet of Wallace’s personality.

“I drum, I bang on stuff,” he says. “I play guitar very poorly, but that’s it.”

As we walk across Main Street to Wallace’s music studio, he relates to me his passion for hitting cymbals and snare drums while his band mates play along.

“I started drumming when I was in junior high,” he says.

How does Wallace schedule practices and performance around his business?

“I’m holding my own,” Wallace says. “Really (drumming) was all I wanted to do. I always thought I’d grow up to be a rock star … Sounds clichéd, but it never quite happened.”

We’re not so sure. The week of this interview, Wallace had bookings every night all over Addison County and at Red Square in Burlington. His bands also play at Middlebury College and at other events, such as weddings. 

As Wallace shows me his drum set, he plays a variety of styles: Latin, jazz, blues, rock ’n’  roll. Throughout all of these tempos, he seldom hams it up, only shaking his head a little as he rolls out a particularly quick tempo or beat change.

Wallace uses a “tempo ref” attached to the bottom of a drum, which allows him to plan out when he crashes his sticks down.

“I know I’m not dragging the beat or rushing the beat,” Wallace said. “But I can’t keep time to save my life.”

During the pandemic’s height, when Wallace couldn’t jam with the rest of his bandmates, practice was lonely. But with the introduction of vaccines, he’s booking gigs again, and is so busy that in one stretch of July he worked “nine solid nights.”

The studio where Wallace records his (and, occasionally, others’) music is on the top floor of the building across Autumn Gold. Asked if his skills running a jewelry store ever assist him as a rock-’n’-roller, Wallace thinks for a moment about his answer.

“You have to be versatile, you have to adapt,” he says. “You have to give the people what they want.”

When asked how he balances his jewelry life and music career, Wallace instantly recognizes what has helped him pursue both of his jobs.

“(I credit) my staff,” he says. “I’ve got a good trained staff so I’m able to do it.”

 “This life owes me nothing; I’m really lucky,” he adds.

Share this story:

More News
News

Middlebury man killed in Weybridge crash

David K. Ricklefs, 53, lost control of the Subaru Impreza he was driving on Morgan Horse F … (read more)

Homepage Featured News

Documentary puts Vermont food insecurity center stage

A Middlebury filmmaker’s new film charts the evolution and impacts of the wildly successfu … (read more)

News

The eclipse was cool enough to yell about

Groups of Vermonters and visitors spread themselves around town greens, highway pull-offs, … (read more)

Share this story: