|Highlands grad ('96) Michelle (Kendrick) Randle realized her dream of owning her own boutique.|
by Robin Gee
Jacob James is a premier fine jewelry and luxury brand boutique in the heart of Hyde Park, but it has Fort Thomas roots. For the owner, it is the realization of a long-held dream.
Michelle Randle grew up in Fort Thomas. In fact, she said, her parents still live there, and her dad tries to go to Highlands football games whenever he can. She said she has a special love for Fort Thomas. It was here that she first discovered her life’s work.
Her sister worked at the famed Gidding Jenny boutique in Cincinnati, and at age 15, she began working there, too, part-time. But it was Mrs. Graziani’s business class she took as a senior at Highlands that set her on her path. As part of that class, she took a full-time co-op position with an independent jewelry design store. That was the start of a 25-year career and a lifetime passion.
Following her dream
"I loved fashion, and it was all around me. I knew very early that one day my dream would be to open my own store," said Randle. It was a long-term goal, and many would have given up as the years progressed, but she held onto her dream.
She worked at small independent jewelers and at Sax Fifth Avenue as a manager and fine jewelry buyer before landing a job in 2018 as director of stores for an iconic Cincinnati company and family business, Stafford Jewelers. The family was open to some of her ideas, and the following year she worked with them to open a new store in Hyde Park, Jacob James, named for two Stafford sons.
"The premise of the store was originally all pre-loved designer luxury: handbags, scarfs, wallets, sunglasses and designer jewelry," she said.
All was going well with the new store but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The Stafford family decided it was the right time to move onto something new. They wanted to leave the retail business, Randle explained.
And with that decision, came a rare, almost once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She was offered a chance to buy the store — and to realize her lifelong dream.
Sixty percent terrifying, 40 percent exciting
|Michelle Randle said she tried to make Jacob James a friendly and inviting place.|
Buying a business during a pandemic? "It was scary. I’d say 60 percent terrifying, but 40 percent exciting. I just felt it was an opportunity I might not get again...I was chasing my dream to own my own boutique...I just knew it would work, so I took the chance," she said.
Randle decided to keep the name of the company to honor the Stafford family. She also kept a focus on pre-loved jewelry and luxury brand accessories, which she both buys and sells at the store. Yet, she decided to add her own touch to the mix by bringing in brand new jewelry lines from some exciting new designers.
"We’ve added seven cases of the newest jewelry trends from all over," she said. "We carry Barry Brinker's couture line and his silver line, Chimento from Italy, Assael (some of the finest pearl designs), a diamond line from New York City and more. We believe we have something for everyone."
Randle said she also wants her store to play an active role in the community, supporting the arts and charities that help neighbors in need. "We have also procured and added some fabulous local artists who are selling their art in our boutique."
Once the pandemic is over, she hopes to do more in-store events. "We plan to have gatherings and events in our store to help raise money for charities, ladies’ nights and such; parties that our guests would like to see."
Finding treasures to bring back home
|Jacob James sells pre-owned and new designer line jewelry as well as bags, scarves and other luxury items|
In her career, Randle has had the opportunity to travel throughout the United States and to Europe in search of the latest in jewelry and luxury good design. She’s made a lot of friends along the way, she said, many of them top-flight designers such as Brinker. “His pieces are incredible,” she said.
It has sometimes been said that Cincinnati is a conservative market, one that is less likely to be "cutting edge" when it comes to new trends in fashion. "There is some truth to that but also to the flip side of that," Randle said. Many in the city are looking for new trends to come here.
"For some, this is exactly what they want. They’re still buying the newest trends, but they may not be buying them locally," she said.
These customers are seeking out the new abroad or in other cities. Her shop, she said, brings those finer things here, closer to home.
Randle has added many new designer items to her store. Until recently, she kept abreast of the latest by attending shows in Italy and elsewhere. Now much of this is done via Zoom, but she hopes to get back out there as soon as it is possible.
Sharing her passion and building community
Personal connections are important within the industry, she said, and also in terms of her relationships with her customers. "Many of my customers have become my friends. I met them when I was selling fine jewelry at Gidding Jenny when I was 15. They’ve watched me grow up and I’ve watched them grow up as well, many have become like a part of my family."
While her merchandise may not fall into the category of essentials for life, she said it is rewarding, especially in these times, to be able to help someone find something special, something that will make them happy. "I love being able to offer things people are really excited about," she said.
She added she is looking forward to a time when she can do more community outreach and events, and benefit the broader community. With Jacob James, Randle is living her dream, sharing her passion for fashion and building relationships.
Jacob James is located at 3446 Edwards Road. To learn more, go to Jacob James website or check out "Shop Jacob James" on Facebook or Instagram.
|Michelle Randle stands outside her Hyde Park store, Jacob James, the realization of a lifelong dream.|