True Grinnellians: Jeanne and Bill Hammen

True Grinnellian - Sarah Ruiz

Sarah Ruiz Bill and Jeanne Hammen stand in their downtown jewelry shop.

Lily Seibert

seibertl@grinnell.edu

Bill and Jeanne Hammen, the owners of Bill’s Jewelry Shop in downtown Grinnell, will be retiring this January and passing the shop on to another owner after over 30 years. During their time in Grinnell, the Hammens have grown their business exponentially, becoming the most successful and well-respected jewelry company in the area. Additionally, they have grown to appreciate the welcoming community of customers who have become like family throughout the years.

“Here, you tend to walk down the street and say, ‘Hi,’ even if you don’t know someone,” Bill said.

Although the Hammens are not originally from Grinnell, Bill grew up working at his father’s jewelry store and has continued down the same path ever since. He expanded on his accumulated knowledge by working as a traveling jewelry salesman across the Midwest until he realized his desire to settle down with his family. Subsequently, he bought the shop in Grinnell and spent the following decades working hard to develop it with his wife. The business has thrived even in the face of large chains like Walmart.

”We decided early on that we wouldn’t have to compete with them,” Jeanne said. “We do a lot of our own repair, we do a lot of design, we’re gemologists. We’ve got the knowledge that they don’t have. It’s been profitable, but it wasn’t profitable right at first.”

Especially at the outset of the process, the challenge of maintaining a small business was nearly too much for the pair to manage. Along with the difficulty of getting off the ground, Jeanne and Bill struggled with long hours and not receiving the benefits of more traditional 9 to 5 workers. Their four children, having witnessed the dedication necessary for such a long-lasting and fruitful endeavor, opted for different occupations not at all related to the family business. Although the Hammens considered abandoning the struggle several times throughout the years, they ultimately knew there was no choice as they molded themselves into the Grinnell community.

“It was the only thing I really knew how to do,” he said. “There were many times I think I would have gotten out of it. But this is all I know.”

Both owners attest to the symbiosis they have developed with their customers over the years. While they have provided valuable service to Grinnell for several decades, they in turn have benefited from witnessing the various stories and journeys of those who buy their products. In some cases, the couple sold jewelry to three different generations of Grinnell inhabitants from the same family, all sharing their milestones and significant moments with the shop.

”Jewelry is an emotional purchase,” he said. “You get engaged, you buy a piece of jewelry. You inherit your parents’ jewelry. They share some really important times of their lives with us.”

The Hammens greatly value the opportunity they have had to impact Grinnell. They leave the shop with a mix of melancholy and relief, unwilling to leave behind their way of life but at the same time looking forward to new possibilities and the freedom to pursue their bucket lists. Bill’s presence will remain at the shop at first in order to smooth the transition.

“[The new owner] will insert her own personality into things,” he said.

As the Hammens have watched their children grow up and their shop develop from a small ambition to a significant influence stretching for miles, they have also learned to appreciate the dynamic nature of life and the beauty that comes with gradual change.