AFFORDABLE GEMS

BY SHARON HARRIS-ZLOTNICK | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HOLGER OBENAUS

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When he opened Graffito in October 2011, owner Bill Thomasson understood he needed to be creative to successfully operate a jewelry store in one of Charleston’s premier tourist neighborhoods. He eagerly accepted the challenge. Five years later, Thomasson affirms that everything has gone according to plan. Graffito, his 1,100-square-foot boutique near the historic residential district, surrounds many of Charleston’s favorite casual and fine dining restaurants, bars and small businesses.

Thomasson states: “We are doing exactly what we wanted to do, with just a few tweaks. Our goal was to offer unique, affordable handcrafted jewelry in an unpretentious environment with fun, upbeat music.”

He chose the name Graffito, meaning “writing scratched on a wall” in Italian, to sound interesting and not limit the store’s merchandise, which also includes both gift items and clothing.

Thomasson confirms his customers love the uniqueness of Graffito, which showcases just one of each item. He explains that once sold, merchandise is not replaced in the display case with duplicate pieces from a drawer. From traditional to colorful and hip, 35 distinct designers supply products that never compete within the store’s space.

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He states: “Charleston has many fine jewelry stores and numerous additional shops selling mass-produced, inexpensive fashion jewelry. We wanted to develop a niche with artists who use affordable materials to create artisan jewelry with a designer look. Our artisan jewelry costs from $45 to $800.”

Beginning in Aiken, South Carolina, Thomasson’s retail experience dates back over two decades. He owned the Carriage House Gift Shop, which sold antiques, gifts and home accessories. Thomasson also coowned the 3 Monkeys Fine Gifts shop in Aiken.

Seeking higher customer traffic, Thomasson launched his new business in Charleston, where he already had a second home and retail contacts. Graffito is open daily and markets itself to both locals and tourists who dine in nearby restaurants. The staff includes his son, Will, and employees Elizabeth and Abby.

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Graffito offers what Thomasson describes as “big statement” pieces that customers can wear all day. “These days, more consumers secure their valuables in a safe and replace them with fun pieces like long necklaces, layered necklaces and bracelets,” he says. “Graffito is not your mother’s jewelry store, but is instead part of the ‘almost anything goes’ niche.”

Thomasson attends the larger jewelry and gift shows in Atlanta and New York City to acquire the most interesting items. His inventory represents local artists as well as several from South America, Germany, Spain, Israel, Italy and Turkey. Three of his favorite designers are:

Uno de 50 Based in Madrid, this limited edition line for both men and women reflects modern European silver and leather styling that often incorporates Swarovski crystals. Uno de 50 features a Ralph Lauren equestrian look with a cool European vibe and is the only men’s jewelry line that Graffito carries.

Vivo Studios This California artisan utilizes stingray leather to create durable jewelry, handbags and accessories. Thomasson sought an artisan who combines stingray with less expensive metals like stainless steel and gold plate instead of sterling silver or solid gold. The bright, colorful, affordable items can be painted almost any color.

Rebel Designs This New York City artisan blends leather, metal and Swarovski crystals. Thomasson says, “Rebel Designs walks the fine line between sophisticated and cool.”

“Some of Thomasson’s designers will customize pieces, shortening them or changing colors to suit the client. They can even come up with a special piece, such as a necklace, for a bride.”

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Looking ahead, Thomasson aims to expand in the local market to complement his large tourist clientele. Prior customers are a key sales audience. “Our biggest compliment comes from those repeat customers who visit us when they return to Charleston,” he says. “We also have a large holiday presence, and customers call every day to ask us to text photos of merchandise they can purchase. Husbands desiring holiday gifts for their wives frequently contact us, since we will ship anywhere nationwide and internationally.”

Sharon Harris-Zlotnick is a freelance writer based in Egg Harbor Township, NJ. Learn more at linkedin.com/in/sharonharriszlotnick or sharonhar@aol.com.