Business

Joe Rosenberg's moves to Main

Friday is Joe Rosenberg's last day at Joe Rosenberg Jewelers on South Upper Street. Monday will be his first day at Joe Rosenberg Jewelers on East Main Street.

The new store will be one block down and two over, on the ground floor of Barrister Hall, 163 East Main Street.

As he stood behind the counter of the emptying Upper Street store Thursday, the 54-year-old Rosenberg was not melancholy about leaving the only family business location he has known.

“This was an interim stop on our way to the next stop,” he said Thursday. “The institution is the business, not the building.”

It was a long interim. Rosenberg's is one of Lexington's oldest businesses, and has been at 126 South Upper Street since 1929.

The building it now occupies, a portion of what was once called Morton's Row, dates to 1826. It will be demolished to make room for CentrePointe, a 35-story hotel and condominium complex that will cover an entire block.

Rosenberg's family owns most of the block, and he has been stung by criticism of the development and his role in it.

He is particularly unhappy by a comment by Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen that Rosenberg's parents' 1949 renovation to the Upper Street location had “bastardized” it.

“I think it's incredible that they criticized a previous generation for putting windows in a mercantile building,” he said.

Rosenberg's grandfather, also named Joe, was an immigrant from Lithuania. He came to Kentucky because a woman he had known in his home country had settled in Frankfort. They married.

The first Joe Rosenberg earned a living as a peddler, selling pots and pans and, later, eyeglasses.

He opened Joe Rosenberg Jewelers in 1896 on Lexington's Water Street, just around the corner from the South Upper location.

In addition to being a jewelry store, Rosenberg's store has been a pawn shop.

But the pawn business had become an increasingly small part of the business. It goes away entirely when the new location opens.

That's because pawn shops are not permitted within a certain distance of Lexington Center.

The Upper Street location had a pawn license before the new restriction went into effect, so it was grandfathered in. But the city wouldn't allow the license to move to Main Street.

The items that had been pawned were returned, Rosenberg said.

“We actually got it back to the customers,” he said. “Most of it, we called the customers and said, ‘Come pick up this, we're giving it to you.' They were pretty happy.”

The move to East Main Street shows, Rosenberg said, a strong commitment to downtown Lexington.

“We're big on downtown. We're a promoter of downtown,” he said.

“We've stayed here while every other retailer has left.”

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