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Passing the torch: K-Dee’s Jewelers closes as Barnhardt Jewelers begins new adventure

By Liz Moomey

liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Cathie Dietz and Debbie Barnhardt have a number of things in common.

They both grew up in the jewelry business and eventually became owners of their own business — Dietz with K-Dee’s Jewelers and Barnhardt with Barnhardt Jewelers.

Dietz wanted to retire from the store, which was located at 112-114 E. Innes St., and she began looking for the perfect fit to take over the location. Meanwhile, Barnhardt’s jewelry store — at 314 S. Salisbury Ave. in Spencer — was looking to move from Spencer to downtown Salisbury.

“I did have some other people who were interested in buying the store,” she said. “I told Debbie all along that I really wanted her to have it because there is just a connection. It’s a local connection.”

Dietz and Barnhardt began their negotiation, which took about a year. With prayer, they decided it was time to pass the torch from Dietz to Barnahrdt.

“It was time to let it go,” Dietz said. “It was a struggle.”

K-Dee’s Jewelers started with her brother-in-law Bob Dietz in 1984. Her husband, Ken Dietz, helped with jewelry repairs and bought the store when his brother retired in 2006. In 2013, her husband passed away and Cathie Dietz inherited the jewelry store.

Debbie Barnhardt learned jewelry repairs from her uncle, Harold. Debbie said she would go to him with questions and he showed her how to do the repairs, not just complete them himself.

Dec. 28 was the last day of K-Dee’s Jewelers. On Jan. 6, the property was transferred to Debbie Barnhardt.

There are years of history in the building for the Dietz family, but Cathie says she was ready to retire, and concentrate on her job at Novant Health.

“Cathie made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse,” Debbie Barnhardt said. “We just prayed about it. It was a hard decision. The hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

Debbie Barnhardt calls Spencer her hometown. It’s also the town that helped build her business. 

“Leaving is probably one of the hardest things I will ever do, because to me Spencer is one of the most charming towns in North Carolina,” she said. “Where else can you walk down the street and hear a steam engine blowing?”

Barnhardt Jewelers has become a destination in Spencer. The downtown Salisbury location will be different, with frequent passersby. She said the shop will act as a billboard.

Debbie Barnhardt’s son, Josh, will help with converting the buildings, which include 112 E. Innes St. and 114 E. Innes St. into two upstairs apartment units. He began helping with business operations following the death of Debbie’s husband, Gary, in 2010, and Debbie Barnhardt said she would not be doing the venture without her son..

“He was the determining factor,” she said. “He walked in my store and said ‘If you want to stay in business, you have to change the way you’re doing business,’ because everything is changing.”

Josh Barnhardt helped update the store. And now he is leading the way for renovating the building.

The process is completely new for Debbie Barnhardt, who started her business out of a basement. 

“I’m all about working with my hands making jewelry,” Debbie Barnhardt said. “Josh is about the numbers.”

Josh Barnhardt saw the opportunity in downtown Salisbury and demand for downtown living. Initially he thought the family would just put in a jewelry store, but it soon became apparent he couldn’t pass on the apartments, which will be called “the Lofts on Innes.”

The numbers got a little easier with a help from the Salisbury City Council, which awarded a $106,744 downtown incentive grant to assist with the rehabilitation and residential project.

Josh Barnhardt said he and his mother have “the historic bug.” Though he is looking forward to fall — early fall for completion of the jewelry store and late fall for the apartments — he has been looking back on the history of the two buildings.

The 112 E. Innes St. section, which will have a two-bedroom and two-bathroom apartment, was built in 1885, Josh Barnhardt said. It was originally a saloon and had billiards in the back. Debbie Barnhardt said she believes the apartment area was once used as a brothel, too.

The 114 E. Innes St. section, which was built in the late 1920s, will hold a one-bedroom and one-bathroom apartment.

The Barnhardts are pursuing state historic tax credits to return the building to “its original glory,” Josh Barnhardt said, adding there’s a delicate balance between creating a useable space and preserving history. Some of the features have been naturally restored, including 75% of the tin ceiling and light fixtures.

The Barnhardts will begin demolition next week. Josh Barnhardt said there are some structural problems with the building that needs to be addressed.

Until then, Debbie Barnhardt is busy thinking about what the completed store will look like.

When Barnhardt Jewelers opens in downtown, she wants it to be friendly and comfortable. It can be a place where someone can come and create anything they want in a piece of jewelry. It will never be “an uptown jewelry store,” she said.

“The main reason I ever opened a jewelry store was that anybody, I don’t care if they had $5 or $5 million, would feel comfortable walking into my store,” Debbie Barnhardt said.

That’s part of the reason Cathie Dietz says she chose Debbie Barnhardt as the buyer.

“Because K-Dee’s Jewelers was always considered your family jewelry store,” Cathie Dietz said. “We didn’t cater to the upper or lower. It was everybody.”

The Barnhardts and Dietzes have known each other since their sons were born. But through the transition all they have developed a stronger friendship. 

Debbie Barnhardt says she is ready to “move forward in a whole new adventure.”

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