By Kelly Youngblood
In honor of Women’s History Month, we are spotlighting several area women-owned businesses this March who are core members of our community.
Champaign Jewelers is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year with a brand-new building that owner Kari Smith describers as her “dream store.”
The woman-owned business, formerly located on South Neil Street, is now at Village at the Crossing and Smith says she is thrilled with the new space.
“We’ve added several design studios and a beautiful conference room to host design parties and gem shows in,” Smith said. “The space is so pretty and feels like you’re going to visit friends.”
Smith, who is a Graduate Gemologist from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and serves on the Board of Directors for Independent Jewelers Organization, has worked in the jewelry industry since 1999.
She fell in love with jewelry and custom designs while managing a local jewelry store and said she always knew she wanted to run her own business. She also had a vision of what she thought the jewelry buying experience could look like, wanting to make it more welcoming and fun.
“It can be very intimidating for someone to walk into a store that is very formal and ‘stuffy,’ with salespeople who are pushy or just want to ‘make the sale,” she said. “I love that our clients feel comfortable, learn all about the jewelry they are purchasing and are having fun!”
Smith, who graduated from the University of Illinois in 2001 with a degree in economics, opened her own store in 2013 which was “great for starting out,” but her business has grown since then.
“It was getting harder to give each client the experience we’d like to. We knew it was time to start looking for a larger space,” Smith said.
After looking at several locations and working with local realtor Jill Guth, Smith said they found a vacant spot at Village at the Crossing that she could “build out and create my dream store!”
The construction process was a challenge, but Smith said she’s thrilled now that it’s completed.
The last few years have presented several other challenges, but as a small business owner, she appreciates the ability to pivot and try something new.
When she had to close the store for a few months in 2020, they were able to utilize new technology that had not been readily available before. Although there was a learning curve, Smith said they were able to keep celebrating those special moments with their clients.
Despite the challenges, Smith’s business has thrived. She attributes that success to multiple sources including a willingness to try something new, and not be afraid to fail; a supportive husband and family that believes in her; an amazing team; and “awesome people in the community that have been both treasured advisors and shoulders to cry on.”
“There are so many things that I feel have contributed to the success of Champaign Jewelers and I am thankful for them all,” she said.
After 10 years of owning her own business, Smith still has a love and passion for what she does. She enjoys the variety in her days, the ever-changing industry, and a great team of women working beside her.
“I have an amazing group of ladies that work with me, and they make every day a great day,” Smith said.
Working with sparkly diamonds and gemstones is also a perk.
“Jewelry is something that we use to celebrate! It can be for a big life event, a special day or just a random happy Tuesday present,” she said.
Smith, a long-time resident of Champaign-Urbana, says the “area is a one-of-a-kind place” to live and work.
“I love the diversity, the food and entertainment available, the parks. And the people,” she said. “There are so many inspiring people that I’ve met in Champaign that have a drive to be successful and help others around them be their best!”