The downtown Daytona Beach business celebrates 129 years
| The Daytona Beach News-Journal
DAYTONA BEACH — Even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the glimmer of diamonds and gold still attracts customers to Tom Cook Jeweler, a family-owned fixture for nearly 130 years.
“People are still getting engaged, celebrating anniversaries and birthdays,” said Vicki Cook Leonardt, co-owner of the venerable jewelry shop at 150 S. Beach Street with her sister Sheryl Cook.
The duo represents the fourth generation of family leadership of a company originally founded in 1892 in Columbus, Ga. The sisters team with Vicki’s daughter, Ashley Leonhardt Lee, a fifth generation connection who joined the company as vice president of sales and marketing in 2005.
Despite being closed for a month in April because of the pandemic, as well as enduring ongoing traffic disruption caused by the Beach Street streetscape project, Tom Cook Jeweler is expecting to match its 2019 sales figures, said Sheryl Cook.
“We had one of the best Junes and Julys in our history,” Cook said. “For the year, we’re very close to doing what we did last year.”
This month, the shop marked its 129th anniversary with “Milestone Mondays” on its social media sites, sharing historic photos and recollections that recount the company’s long history.
The business was founded in 1892 by the sisters’ great-grandfather, Vaclav Jule Pekor, who started Pekor Jewelry Company in Columbus, Georgia.
His son-in-law, James Thomas Cook (“Tom Cook Sr.”), took over in 1931 following Pekor’s death. In 1947, he moved the store to Daytona Beach when he renamed it Tom Cook Jeweler.
His son, Tom Cook Jr., joined the business that same year and became owner in 1965.
Vicki started working there after college in 1975. Sheryl started five years later, after studying economics and political science at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga.
The two sisters succeeded their father as owners when he retired in 1995, although he continued to come to the store to serve customers. Tom Cook Jr. died in 2014 at age 86.
‘I love jewelry’
“Dad never made us feel like we had to do it,” said Vicki, 66, who considered a career in healthcare before settling into the family business. “I love jewelry and I liked the people. You get to see customers in happy times, buying gifts. The customers are great to deal with.”
For her younger sister, entry into the company was more complicated. With three generations already involved, her parents initially urged Sheryl to pursue a career with a big corporation.
It took an appeal by a college guidance counselor on a parents’ weekend visit for Sheryl to get her chance.
“She talked to my parents and said, ‘Sheryl really wants to work at the store and I think you should let her,’” said Sheryl, 62.
For Vicki’s daughter, Ashley, the connection to the shop started with a teenage job wrapping gifts.
“I was pretty certain I wanted to work here, even before college,” she said.
In addition to an advertising degree from the University of Florida, Ashley, 37, also holds a graduate gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, California. Her role now encompasses both marketing and diamond buying.
“We do a lot of custom engagement rings,” Ashley said. “If somebody sees something they like online or in a magazine, we can pretty much make it.”
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the store now offers free shipping and curbside pickup, as well as new eGift Cards for online purchase and delivery. Online, at tomcookjeweler.com, the store offers same day, in-store pickup for orders placed by 3 p.m.
There also are enhanced cleaning procedures in the store, where many clients still want to see items first-hand, Ashley said.
“With jewelry, people want to see it, they want to touch it, to feel it, to try it on,” she said.
The store’s custom jewelry clients include Daytona Tortugas’ mascots Shelldon and Shelly, whose oversized faux diamond ring was designed by the shop.
“It’s fun,” Ashley said of the work. “It’s always a nice story. The people walking into the store are happy and excited most of the time.”
A long relationship
The shop’s multi-generational connection extends beyond its ownership. Many longtime customers also represent family loyalty built over generations.
“Our family has this long, long relationship with them,” said Muffi Chanfrau, founder and president of A+ Tutoring, Inc. in Ormond Beach. “My husband, Bill, his mom and dad absolutely bought their jewelry from Tom Cook. That connection goes way back. Bill’s grandmother, also.”
Chanfrau’s wedding and engagement rings were purchased at Tom Cook Jeweler in 1968. Another piece of jewelry with a priceless sentiment connection also was created there in the late 1970s, she said.
“After my mother died, my father gave me her wedding band and engagement ring and I didn’t know what to do with it,” Chanfrau said. “We took it down to Tom Cook Jeweler and Tom Cook (Jr.) was there. He created a diamond piece necklace and I wear it every single day.
“It’s a round pendant with one diamond in the middle and other small diamonds around it,” she said. “It’s not huge, but it means so much to me. I feel like every day I wear it, I have my mother at my heart.”
Chanfrau’s daughter, Kelly, has continued the family’s loyalty to the shop.
“They have wonderful taste,” Kelly said. “What they have in there is very unique. We’re lucky to have them in this community, for sure.”
And there’s already a possibility that yet another generation might be interested in the family business.
“My little girl was just in here this morning,” Ashley said. “She helped us bring the boxes to the back.”
When Tom Cook Jeweler opened its doors in Daytona Beach in 1947, here’s a snapshot of what else was happening in the world:
• President Truman outlined the Truman Doctrine to the United States Congress. The speech marked the beginning of the Cold War, a result of his vow that the United States would fight against communism.
• U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall announced the “Marshall Plan” to the public, expressing the urgent need for the United States to help Europe recover from the devastation of World War II.
• The first Polaroid Land Camera, capable of developing a black-and-white photograph in 60 seconds, was demonstrated at a meeting of the Optical Society of America in New York.
• U.S. Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager became the first person to break the sound barrier, test flying the Bell X- 1 experimental rocket plane in California.
• A research team at Bell Laboratories invented the transistor to replace vacuum tubes in electronics.
• The United Nations voted in favor of the creation of an Independent Jewish State of Israel.
• Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
• Everglades National Park was dedicated as a National Park by President Truman.
Tom Cook Jeweler
Where: 150 S. Beach St., Daytona Beach
Hours: 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday
Made Just Right: About this series
The Daytona Beach News-Journal is spotlighting area businesses that have been around long enough to be an important part of our collective history. If you are the owner of a business that has been in operation for at least 25 years, or if you want to nominate a business for recognition, please contact reporter Jim Abbott at [email protected] Be sure to include your name, phone number and a little bit about the history of the business.