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Rita Caz store glitters and grows

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When Rita Caz Jewelry Gallery moved in April from its cozy yet too-small abode in the corner of Kings Yard to a roomier space next door, it was more than a relocation. It was an upgrade.

Store co-owner Mark Crockett learned that the building, which formerly housed Garden Art & Gifts, had become available last winter and wanted to take advantage of the additional space that it offered.

“The decision to move was simple,” said Mark Crockett, who owns the gallery with his wife, Gail Zimmerman. “The opportunity came up and we decided if we had more space we would do more.”

The custom jewelry business has been presenting a diverse range of merchandise and services since it opened in 1986 at its original location on Dayton Street at what is now Design Sleep. Crockett and Zimmerman, who met as art students at Wright State University in 1971 where they began to collaboratively show their jewelry each quarter, opened the shop with then-partner Luigo Aconcito. The name Caz is a combination of the first initial from each partner’s last name, and Rita was chosen arbitrarily because it sounded good with the acronym.

Three years after establishing themselves on Dayton Street, the couple moved to Kings Yard and thrived for 19 years at their smaller location. However, the couple felt the limited space hampered their interactions with customers, compared to more open events like the Yellow Springs street fair. They believe that customers are already finding the new environment to be more welcoming.

“The space allows for people to stay and talk and see what you have,” Zimmerman said. “It’s very comfortable here.”

The expansion has also allowed for long-desired improvements, they said. For example, there is now a basement that can be used for a variety of purposes. A large wooden table that sits just at the stairway landing will be used as a workplace for the construction of steel wind chimes — one of Rita Caz’s signature items. To the left of the table is the studio where Crockett and Zimmerman cast and design their jewelry. And through a side door, a glass kiln sits waiting for the jewelry-making classes that the jewelers will begin teaching in September.

“People have said, ‘I’d love to experience something like that,’ and that’s what we are doing,” Zimmerman said of the decision to start offering the classes.

Innovations are happening on higher floors as well. A balcony that runs nearly the entire length of the store is home to Crockett’s large guitar collection. The music aficionado plays in two bands — WG Blues Unit and Revolving Door — and over the years had gathered so many guitars that his wife began to complain about them obstructing their work environment.

“I used to have to impose on Gail and everyone who worked here because the instruments were everywhere. Everybody was tripping on them,” Crockett said.

Now the assortment of guitars and banjos, many of which are vintage, hang on two display racks. The balcony also provides a classroom for the gallery’s two guitar instructors who offer lessons to interested customers. It had been impossible to hold those lessons during store hours at the previous shop because there was simply not enough room for the pupils and customers to be there at the same time.

“We had several people that we would give lessons to, but we would sort of wait until the store closed,” Crockett said.

Yet, what is most pleasing to Crockett and Zimmerman is the expansive main level where customers are first introduced to the spirit of the store that has changed along with its owners over the years. The ample display cases and shelves make it easier for visitors to see and inquire about the jewelry pieces made by the four resident jewelers, who are Crockett, Zimmerman, and long-term associates Mary Patterson and Talitha Greene. The area is also large enough to hang the African masks, tools and instruments that Crockett is so fond of. The distinct aesthetics are as much a trademark of the gallery as the intricately designed jewelry and hand-made crafts.

While the store sells new jewelry, the dominant part of its business is repair of gold and silver, Zimmerman said. Customers come from Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton because Ritz Caz is one of the few stores in Ohio that does jewelry repair, and it may be the only one that repairs silver jewelry, she said. Crockett is trained in both gold and silver, and Zimmerman is trained in silver repair.

Zimmerman is proud to have successfully developed relationships with the numerous other artists whose work is featured in the gallery, including Sharon Benedict of Clifton, who makes etchings on gourds, and Shawn Busey of Enon, who does wood crafting. She believes that by primarily working with local and regional artists, Rita Caz has been able to create a singular selection that would be difficult to duplicate elsewhere.

“People come in and say they have never seen a shop like it,” she said. “We try to keep everything as unique as possible.”

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