By Michele J. Kuhn
FAIR HAVEN – Maureen Bay has been responsible for bringing a lot of sparkle and beauty to the borough for 30 years.
Bay, the owner of Gem of An Idea at 740 River Road, is celebrating her 30th year in business and is proud of the designs, quality and trust-worthiness she has been able to offer her customers for three decades.
Bay began in the jewelry business working in a store in Shrewsbury. She and another employee decided to become partners in 1983 and they opened a store in another borough location. Bay amicably bought her partner out about six years later and moved the business to her present address.
Her longevity has given her the pleasure of serving not only her original customers but also their children and now some of their grandchildren as well.
“I’m now on the third generation of some of the families coming in to me,” Bay said. “I almost feel a little motherly or, maybe sentimental, about my clients. I’m resetting diamonds I sold to a young couple and now they are using that for their son or their daughter and they are having a baby … It’s kind of nice.
“It’s making me feel old but it’s also making me feel that, if you can hold on to three generations of customers, you must be doing something right.”
Bay has a passion for her business and the things she designs and sells. “I’ve always said this business is two things: trust and emotion. People have to trust you but buying jewelry … is an emotional thing … Most of it is for an occasion. It takes on added importance.”
Bay feels that sense of responsibility to help customers buy that gift “whether it’s a father coming in with his son buying something for Mother’s Day for the first time” or someone purchasing something more extravagant. “You have to steer that client toward something that has to be just right, be the right price, be right for the person getting it, say everything they want it to say.”
Bay’s business has changed over the years. She says that when she and her partner founded the business, they were not as ambitious nor did they have a lot of money. “We did a lot of beaded jewelry,” she said. “We made a lot of our own things. I made a lot. I started out at the bench doing repairs. So my position with the business has moved from the bench area and creating to dealing more with the customers. Now I’m more behind-the-scenes again. I’m more into the operational part of the business.”
While Bay is still creating exquisite pieces of jewelry, she has taken Gem of An Idea’s inventory over the years from its more humble start to more exclusive lines in gold and platinum and a wide variety of gemstones that represent her custom-designed pieces and various brands.
Bay’s business philosophy is that she wants her customers “to feel comfortable … feel assured that they are dealing with someone who is honestly steering them in the right direction, someone who is offering them true value…I want them to feel confident and happy. I want them to walk out the door happy they came in and happy with whatever purchase or decision that they made.
“I like to look a person in the eye and I like to be able to do the same thing 10 years after I sell them something,” she said.
Bay estimates that within a mile of her store there are at least 15 jewelry stores, not to mention the various online retailers. “So why come in here?” she asks and then answers that she is “ offering something a little different, going out of our way for service … giving something to my customers that they can’t find elsewhere in terms of service, style, attention to them.
“When someone walks in the door, they don’t remain anonymous for long,” she said proudly. “We go out of our way … whatever it takes.”
Bay also is well known for her community spirit and has been actively involved in many Fair Haven occasions over the years. She was president of the Fair Haven Business Association for more than 20 years and has involved herself with different groups, including those fighting breast cancer, borough organizations, Clean Ocean Action, CPC Behavioral Healthcare and her alma mater, Monmouth University. “It’s important to give back,” she said. ”It’s also a way for people to meet me … and do something nice. If I have the ability to contribute, then I feel I have that obligation to support my community.”
Bay came to the area from Massachusetts to attend Monmouth University in 1970. It was there she met her husband and graduated with degrees in fine arts and education. She taught school for a bit but decided that was not the direction she wanted to go and went into retail. She continued her education and is credentialed by the Gemological Institute of America.
As someone surrounded by beautiful precious metals, fabulous pearls and glittering gemstones, Bay’s taste is “very eclectic.” Personally, she is drawn toward tourmaline. “It’s untreated, it comes in a variety of natural colors and it can be affordable or very expensive,” she said.
She and her husband have enjoyed living in the area and riding their Harleys together. They have traveled extensively for more than 25 years around the East Coast on their motorcycles. They own five now. “It’s a good way to forget troubles of any sort,” she said.
Though they now have a second home in North Carolina – found while on a motorcycle trip – and escape there whenever they can, Bay sees herself continuing with Gem of An Idea long past her 30 years in Fair Haven.
“I like it here. I like the small town, close atmosphere. I like walking down the street and waving to people,” Bay said. “I feel very comfortable. I like the police. They watch me and make me feel safe … I like that people can park and walk into the store. It’s accessible and easy. It works for me.”