Jeweler Monte Larson recalls a sparkling career

When studying at the University of Montana in the early 1970s, Monte Larson had visions of becoming a history or English teacher.

Instead, he became a jeweler, a career that soon will end after almost 45 years.

Yes, the well-known Miles City businessman, owner of Jewelry by Monte at 3012 Stower St., is retiring and closing his store.

“It’s time to play with the grandkids,” said Larson, 67. “We have seven.”

Still, it’s a bittersweet moment for the jeweler, who will eventually move to California to be close to his grandchildren.

“Yes, it is,” he said. “It’s been a great business for me. I always treated customers as people, not numbers. If it wasn’t for the customers and their loyalty ... I’m dealing with generations.

“But I’m in good health and I am (retiring) because of that. I’m not getting pushed out. My health is fine. I just want to play grandpa and I’m excited about it.”

John Laney, executive director of the Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce, lauded the value of Larson to the city.

“He’s definitely going to be a tremendous loss to the retail community,” Laney said. “He’s one of the best at customer service. There’s a few of them left, but not many. His customer service goes back to the way it was in the 1970s.

“He’s worked hard enough to retire. He deserves it.”

So, how did Larson go from history/English teacher to being a jeweler, hired in 1972 by John Stockwill, whose store was on Main Street in Miles City?

“He wanted somebody who had never been in the jewelry business, someone who didn’t know anything about it,” Larson said.

“I put in a lot of hours and learned a lot. I’d come in early and stay until late at night. You get tired of it, but that was the only way. That’s how I learned the business.”

He opened his own store in 1999 at the current site, which he leases, and except for being closed for almost three months in 2011 when a woman smashed her car into the store, it has been a staple in the city.

His workers have included his wife Rinda, who has worked both full-time and part-time, and Bobbi Schlepp, who has worked alongside Larson for 33 years.

“It’s been great, a wonderful experience,” Schlepp said. “He’s been a great boss.”

Schlepp is not quite ready to retire, but is looking forward to the summer when she’ll spend time with her grandchildren. “I’m retiring, at least through the summer,” she said. “This fall I’ll look for something else.”

Learning from both Stockwill and Larson, she specializes in sales, repair and setting of stones.

“I never thought that jewelry could be so interesting,” Schlepp said. “It turned out to be quite a career.”

They are currently having a whopper of a sale, with prices reduced up to 70 percent on all inventory.

“We’ve been very busy and we don’t have an end date set yet,” Larson said. “Everything is on sale and I even put a price on me, but nobody’s taken me yet. But we’ve just started and I realize you don’t sell everything.”

The reality of retirement is approaching and Larson isn’t sure what to expect.

“I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet, but it will,” he said. “”I have a lot of friends here and I’ve enjoyed working with the people, but my grandkids are calling.”

Asked if the jewelry business has changed over the past 45 years, Larson didn’t hesitate. “The younger generation shopping is different. It has changed because of online shopping and smart phones.”

Larson never considered selling his business. “I didn’t even think about it,” he said. “I just decided to close.”

And leave the snow behind, a positive point about eventually moving to California.

“I can say it. I’m ready,” the 67-year-old Larson said. “I’m not going to miss the snow shoveling.”