SYRACUSE — “I used to dream we would have a jewelry place in here,” says Dale Colella, standing behind the counter of Colella Gallery on the ground floor of the Marriott Syracuse Downtown hotel.
For decades, Colella Gallery was a fixture at 123 East Willow St. in Syracuse. The old brownstone stood apart on the north side of the street; behind was only Interstate 690. That’s where Dale Colella went to work fulltime for his uncle Nicholas (Nick) Colella in 1982.
Before that, he had helped out his uncle, who in turn introduced him to the jewelry and antique trade.
Nick Colella passed away in 2008 and Dale Colella kept the business going, selling by appointment only to customers who learned about the store through word of mouth. He sold off the antiques in 2009 and focused the business solely on jewelry.
In May, 2016 he was at an event at the Hotel Syracuse, now the Marriott Syracuse Downtown. The Onondaga Historical Association was honoring Ed Riley for his work restoring the hotel. The work was far from done, but the Persian Terrace was in good enough shape to host the event.
Colella was impressed by the developer’s humility during the event, how he gave credit to everyone else involved in the project. Following the dinner, Colella and his wife, Pattie, peeked through the hanging sheets of plastic that separated the finished areas from those still undergoing renovation. “You know,” he said to his wife, “this would be a perfect fit.”
Moments later, a Marriott representative appeared at his elbow and offered the Colellas a tour. As they went through the far-from-completed hotel, Colella says he could see where it could work for a jewelry store.
“I wrote a letter to Ed Riley sharing my vision of a high-end jewelry gallery in the hotel.” After some negotiations about precisely which space would work — Colella wanted to make sure the new gallery would have an entrance from the hotel, not just the street — the two reached an agreement. Colella brought in contractor Rick Capozzi of Burke Contracting to create a space based on Collela’s ideas. “I designed this to be like it was built when the hotel was,” Colella says.
The gallery moved to the hotel in mid-November and Colella sold the brownstone in early December for $435,000. The buyer was OIP Holdings, which Colella says plans to renovate it into a high-end Italian restaurant.
Being in the Marriott, with visibility and foot traffic, is a big change from selling by appointment only through referrals, and sales have climbed with the new location. “Our first quarter here we had a marked increase,” Colella says.
The display cases show a mix of new and estate jewelry. They include tiny women’s art-deco watches dating from the 1920s to modern pieces from Italian designers. One necklace with a 7.18 caret emerald surrounded by 9.5 carets of diamonds is a new creation that carries a price tag of $35,000.
But, Colella explains, at Christmas he sold a simple pair of estate earrings for $15. “They were gold, 14-caret.”
Colella, who is joined at work by gemologist Sano Ramos, says his experience and the relationships he has built over the years, allow him to compete with large chains as well as other locally owned jewelers.
“We can maintain quality at a lower price point,” he says. Part of that is because he does not have to pay mall-level rents. Another is how he treats vendors. “Just as you cultivate clientele on that side of the counter, you cultivate purveyors on this side.”
That cultivation is helped by his ability to pay cash up front when he sees a piece he likes. “We don’t borrow money. We have no debt,” Colella says. That gives him a buying advantage when the competition may be asking to pay in 30 or 60 days.
Another advantage Colella presses is that he does not sell a lower level of jewelry that chains may in order to hit certain price points. “We don’t need phony sales.”
Adapting to the new location, Colella is running television commercials for the first time in the gallery’s history. The ads, to appear on a local network affiliate, were written by Colella.
“My intent was to introduce ourselves to people who don’t know my family’s been in the jewelry business for 70 years,” Colella says, “and to let them know we’ve now changed to an open-door policy.”
After that, he says, it’s up to people to visit. “I think once they come in, the jewelry speaks for itself.”