- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

NORWALK, Conn. (AP) - When watchmaker Loreto Pellegrini decided to open a jewelry store at 129 Washington St. in 1951 he was one of 13 jewelers in the center of South Norwalk’s once-bustling retail district.

Loreto passed away in 1989, and one by one the other dozen jewelers closed their doors, but after 64 years one thing remains constant on a changing Washington Street - a Pellegrini selling jewelry.

“Pellegrini’s and Klaff’s are the oldest family-owned stores that are still here,” said Loreto’s son Larry Pellegrini who owns the store with his wife Carol. “We’re an old-fashioned mom and pop store. We’re really a dying breed.”

It’s just that “mom and pop” aspect of the business that the couple attributes to the store’s longevity on a street where businesses have come and gone since Pellegrini’s had opened its doors 64 years ago.

Pellegrini reflected on the changing landscape of Washington Street recently as he watched the construction vehicles outside his door.

“It’s always been this way. Restaurants have come and gone for a number of reasons,” he said. “We’ve seen business on the street go way up and way down and back up over the years. We have generations of customers coming in- young people whose grandparents used to shop here. I think we’re very fortunate to have that kind of loyalty from our customers.”

The store’s long history began with Loreto and his interest in watchmaking. After serving in the military during World War II, Loreto went to the Bulova School of Watchmaking.

“He was a master watchmaker,” Larry said. “He came to Norwalk to work for David Pinkas doing watch repair.”

Pinkas Jewelers was one of the original 13 jewelry stores in the 1950’s on Washington Street.

“There was Pinkas, Nagle, Gordon,” Larry said. “I don’t remember all of them.”

Pellegrini reminisced about the Washington Street he remembers as a child.

“I went to St. Mary’s School and I used to come down to the shop after school,” Larry said. “There was Millette’s dress shop, Thom McCann shoes, Herman’s, Toby’s Mens Shop. This was quite an area for shopping.”

Larry’s original career plan wasn’t to take over the jewelry store but his father’s love of working with the public was contagious.

“I went to school for Metallurgical Engineering,” Larry said. “I would work at the store in the summer and really liked being with the customers. I went back to school for gems and I studied for the GIA.”

In 1987 Larry’s father got ill and in 1989, Loreto passed away at the age of 67.

“He worked here until he got sick,” Larry said. “He really loved it.”

“We were at 129 Washington for 10 years, then at 81 Washington for more than 20 years before we moved next door to number 83,” he said. “In 1987 we bought the space we’re in now. We own it so we’re not subject to rental fluctuations the way we used to be. When customers come in they are dealing directly with the owner.”

Settled in to their 1,100 square foot space at 85 Washington at the former site of a bank, the centerpiece of the store’s rear wall is a massive bank vault

“This is the old City Trust building, then it was South Norwalk bank,” Larry said as he pointed to the vault “People are always so interested in the vault, they ask if they can take pictures of it, but we can’t allow that for insurance reasons.”

Products at the full-service jewelry store include: engagement and wedding rings; silver-plate gift items; gold, silver, and platinum jewelry, religious jewelry; and watches that are specific to the Pellegrini name.

“We have our own line of Pellegrini watches. We had them years ago and decided to bring them back,” said Carol. “They have a Swiss movement and are assembled in the United States. We’re really proud to put our name on these.”

“Everyone in our family has one,” Larry said.

Carol and Larry are looking forward to SoNo’s new development as a source of business.

“There will be plenty of young people moving in to the new apartments going up,” Carol said. “It’s exciting that young people will be coming in to the area.”

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Information from: The Hour, http://www.thehour.com

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