Morgan's Jewelers, Winona, MN
How can you tell that Jason Gamoke of Morgan’s Jewelers loves his business in downtown Winona? “If someone told me tomorrow that they would pay to pick me up and move me anywhere else, I wouldn’t do it. There’s no other place that we’d be more successful.” That’s a big statement for a small business, and one with an incredibly long history in downtown.
Morgan’s Jewelers opened in 1862, and while it’s had three homes (namely, on the old Morgan Block) it’s always been in downtown Winona, and has only ever been run by two families: the Morgans, who owned and operated it for three generations, and now Jason’s family: his stepfather, Jim Anderson, who purchased the business when approached by the Morgan family in 1978, Jason, who started working in the store in 1995 and purchased the business from Jim in June 2017, and his son Hunter, who has recently started working in the store. If you’re counting, that’s two families with three generations each— a pretty impressive accomplishment in a historic downtown!
Top Left: Jason Gamoke, owner of Morgan’s Jewelers. Top Right: Storefront of Morgan’s in downtown Winona. Bottom: Original Morgan Block in downtown Winona, 1862. Photo Credit: Winona County Historical Society
Jason didn’t plan to take over the family business. Although he grew up in the Winona area he planned on moving somewhere bigger, to be off and gone, maybe as a pilot. After attending college and working jobs in landscaping and construction, Jason’s son was born, and his moving plans changed. However, Morgan’s was still not part of his plan. Then one day, Jim called him up. “I’ve got a question for you,” Jason laughed recalling the conversation where Jim asked him to consider joining the team at the store. “He told me he’d give me time to think it over. He asked me on a Saturday and said he’d check back in on Monday for an answer, so my time to think it over was only one day.” And that was that. Jason was hooked. Jason and Jim still work on jewelry themselves in their store. In fact, decades ago Jim trained as a watchmaker in Switzerland and plans to attend his watchmaking class reunion next year.
“IF SOMEONE TOLD ME TOMORROW THAT THEY WOULD PAY TO PICK ME UP AND MOVE ME ANYWHERE ELSE, I WOULDN’T DO IT.”
“Not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new. The industry is fun. Being downtown is great.” But the best part for Jason? “Selling engagement rings to generations of a family is incredible. To have someone walk in and say ‘my parents got their rings here, and we knew we had to come to you,’ well, that makes you feel like you’re doing something right.”
Being in the heart of downtown Winona for generations means that the folks at Morgan’s Jewelers have seen firsthand the changes that have come to downtowns over the years. Despite urban renewal, they’ve kept their place, and their historic building in downtown with no intentions of leaving. An active partner with the Winona Main Street Program and a direct view onto the Third Street business district, Jason can see the uptick in traffic in recent years. “The consistency that Main Street and events and festivals have brought to downtown is so important. Sweet Stroll, Holiday shopping events (both Winona Main Street events), Shut Down Third Street (an Artists on Main Street project), plus things like the Steamboat Days car show have all been great additions. And it’s not just the special events, it’s the stores, the Levee Park renovations, all of it coming together has made for a consistent increase in traffic.”
While it might seem that a jewelry store has a narrow audience, Jason’s mindset about downtown events is “more is more.” “I don’t care if someone comes in to buy something. We try to participate on Third Thursdays [Winona’s monthly downtown open late night], and we want everyone to stop by, even if they’re not jewelry shopping. We encourage them to check out everything that is happening..” That being said, Morgan’s has added great options for lowerbudget shoppers on Third Thursdays and beyond. With their vintage and estate jewelry trunk shows, free ring cleaning during outdoor events, sip and shop and more, they’re constantly finding new ways to stay involved in downtown. Jason supports many, many non-profits, can regularly be seen at events in and out of downtown Winona, and has even been spotted doing extra snow removal from neighbor businesses and cross-walks in the winter, Not only does he talk about how important it is to be a team player in your downtown, he walks the walk, and is excited about it.
Morgan’s Jewelers is located in a historic building, and that gives them much of their identity. “I’m not into following trends,” Jason noted. “Sure, I’ll update floors or walls, but I keep my old fixtures and cases. That’s part of who we are. Our identity isn’t going to change.” The approach to their building is the same as their approach to their business, and is a testament to the value they have brought and continue to bring to downtown Winona.
When asked how he feels about working and owning a business in a historic downtown, Jason said, “I feel lucky. It’s not to work here. It’s where I grew up, and learned how to treat customers and talk to people. That’s the fun part.”