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Korthuis Jewelry: continuing a family legacy

Danae Milbrandt
Montevideo American-News

Family-owned Korthuis jewelry recently underwent a change in ownership, continuing the tradition of being a family-owned, local business.

LaVerne Korthuis was the owner of Korthuis Jewelry for 62 years, before selling his business to his daughter, Betty Pfaff. LaVerne’s first business was located in Renville, which he purchased from Milo Rethmeier in November of 1958. He made the purchase after the Korean War when he left the United States Air Force, where he was honorably discharged in June of 1955. He then attended watch repair school, and opened his first business.    Followed by the opening of the Renville location, LaVerne then opened a Korthuis Jewelry in Granite Falls after purchasing the location in Granite Falls from Andy Erickson in January of 1961. For a time he operated both locations, until he closed the Renville store in June of 1961.

In April, 1977, LaVerne purchased the current Montevideo Korthuis Jewelry from Chick Colby, which is still located there to this day.

Korthuis currently operates two locations, in Montevideo and Granite Falls. LaVerne’s brother, Herold, also owned a Korthuis Jewelry, located in Willmar; but, after selling the business to his brother, LaVerne ended up localizing the business in the Montevideo and Granite Falls area.

According to Betty, the jewelry trade is a family tradition.

“It’s actually a bit of a family tradition to own a jewelry store,” she said. “At one time, Dad had three brothers and one sister who owned jewelry stores. His brother, John, had one in Brookings, South Dakota; his brother, Clarence, had one in Willmar, which he sold to Harold; and then their sister, Ruth, owned a store in Lead, South Dakota.”

After selling the business to his brother, Harold continued to work in the family business before retiring in 2013.     

Betty bought the business from her dad in June of 2020. “It's always been a dream of mine,” Betty said, who grew up working with her dad from the age of 12. “Growing up, working with my dad, and attending watchmaker's school myself, and then buying the business and continuing my dad's legacy.”

Now that LaVerne has passed his legacy on to his daughter, Betty, he is now technically retired, but still goes to the store nearly every day. According to Betty, her dad likes to keep himself busy working with his family.

“Dad comes in almost every day. He usually tinkers on old watches and clocks in the back, but still loves to visit with the customers, which is a big help when things get busy for me,” said Betty.

In addition to Betty and LaVerne, Betty’s sisters Alissa, Trisha and Michele continue to work with the business, as well as their niece Kylie. In 1984, the Korthuis family employed their family friend Catherine Anderson, who worked with them for 84 years before retiring in 2018.

When people think of a jewelry store, they typically imagine a store filled with items consisting of diamonds and gold, or the like; and Korthuis Jewelry is much more than just a typical jewelry store.

“While we do carry diamonds, gems, and gold, we also have nice quality costume jewelry,” Betty said. “We have a wide variety of giftware as well, including watches, candles, music boxes, snow globes, and baby gifts. We work hard to choose unique giftware, made in the USA as often as possible. We repair watches, clocks, and jewelry, and offer goldsmithing services, and in-store engraving.”

According to Betty, like many things over time, the trend in gift giving changes over the years.

She said, “The types of gifts people are looking for have changed a bit over the years - watches used to be a traditional gift for confirmation or graduation; now most of the younger generations carry a cell phone and don't want or need a watch. The convenience of online shopping has been a bit of a concern, but there are still a lot of people who want to see, touch and try on items before they purchase, and they love the personalized service we offer.”

Betty continued, “Our employees have always been almost exclusively family, along with Kate Anderson, who became like family to us all in the 34 years she worked in the Montevideo store. We are now on the fourth generation of family employees, with John's granddaughter Kylie jumping in with enthusiasm to learn the ropes.”

As with many things over the past year, COVID has made running a business a bit unpredictable.

“COVID caused us to delay our date of purchase of the store, and we had to sign the documents remotely due to covid restrictions. We were closed for seven weeks due to the mandated stay at home order, and we were unable to have a retirement sale for Dad.  It was also a bit more of a scary leap of faith to officially purchase a business during a pandemic,” Betty explained.

The Korthuis family is very grateful for their customers, and are proud to continue running a family-owned business.

“I bought the business because I enjoy what I do, and I want to keep Dad’s legacy alive,” Betty said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with the business, and our customers are extremely loyal, and we really appreciate being able to work with them,” she said with a smile.

With Betty taking the reigns now, there are a couple of changes she would like to make with the business.

“We want to get a website up and running! We are also looking into a personal store credit card to help people with their purchases. We are so excited about the new jewelry and gift lines we have put in, and are happy that we've had a very good response to them already. I personally would really love it if one of my daughters or grandkids would end up joining the business one day, continuing in the footsteps of my dad and myself,” said Betty.

Now, more than ever, supporting local businesses is important to keep in mind with the COVID pandemic making things difficult for individuals and businesses alike. During the holiday season, consider supporting local businesses when gift-giving.