As a young girl, Yvonne Lockhart would gaze at the shiny rings and other accessories in the cases at Bubar’s Jewelers as her mother picked out cufflinks for her father or retrieved an antique watch that had been repaired. Those were the mid-1960s. She has regularly returned to the Downtown Santa Monica jewelry shop in adulthood, recently stopping in to buy Christmas gifts for her own daughters.
The multi-generational makeup of the clientele is just one of the reasons Bubar’s has survived for as long as it has in the community. The business, a staple in the city’s ever-changing Downtown landscape, commemorated its 70th anniversary last year.
“We’ve got so many huge corporations, but I like the smaller mom-and-pop places,” Lockhart, 59, said. “Santa Monica still has that feel of being a small community even though we’re in an internationally known community. At Bubar’s the service has always been amazing, the quality has always been amazing and he knows most of his customers by their first name.”
The “he” Lockhart alluded to is owner Bill Bubar, who attributes the longevity of the business to a combination of family heritage, keen foresight and top-notch customer service.
Bubar keeps alive the legacy of his parents, Nat and Gertrude Bubar, who in 1945 opened a jewelry store near Third Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
He was involved in the family business from a young age, running errands as a child and working in the shop while attending Palisades High School. After studying at San Diego State and Loyola Marymount University and embarking on an education career that included teaching and administrative positions in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Bubar took over the store’s operations around the time his father passed away in 1985.
Like the city it calls home, Bubar’s Jewelers has gone through many changes over the years. When Third Street was converted into a pedestrian thoroughfare, Bubar’s father and others lobbied for access points from the parking structures on Second and Fourth streets to the nearby businesses.
“My father was very proactive and asked the landlord to help him,” Bubar said. “They worked together to build out the store to the alley. He made a huge investment so people could walk through to the store.”
When the Frank Gehry-designed Santa Monica Place was built in 1980, Bubar’s Jewelers considered the well-being of the shop and moved into the mall. Then, in 2002, with the promenade and its surroundings experiencing something of a rebirth, Bubar relocated the business to its current location on Fourth Street near Broadway.
Now 68, Bubar marvels at the shop’s staying power. Through all of the ups and downs, what’s remained constant is his dedication to serving his customers the way his father taught him.
“We’re not a cookie-cutter store,” he said. “Everything is hands-on. … We love our business, we love our customers and we try to provide them with exactly what they want.”
Quality is what keeps customers coming to the store from across the Westside, whether they’re in town or commuting from Pacific Palisades, Malibu or Marina del Rey. There’s continuity in experience thanks to the presence of jeweler Leonel Zepeda, who has worked there for 25 years.
“There’s a lot of personality to the store,” Bubar said.
That he never knows who will walk in or call keeps Bubar motivated and excited. Recently, an elderly man who had purchased an item from the store in the 1990s returned to buy another gift.
“Our business is all about relationships,” he said. “We’re helping people select something that they want to give as a gift or expression of love or commitment. … It’s been our life. It’s a business, but it’s all personal.”