McKinley Jewelry in De Soto

Carol Brewer inspects a gold chain at McKinley Jewelry in De Soto.

When the lights are turned off and the door locked on May 11 – quietly and with no fanfare – McKinley Jewelry in De Soto will become part of local history.

Owner Carol Brewer is closing the store at 308 S. Main St., selling the building and heading into retirement that day, which is her 80th birthday.

“It’s just time,” Brewer said. “Father Time and Mother Nature are taking their toll, and I want to get out and do some things while I’m still able to get around.”

Plans are to sell the building, Brewer said. What remains of the store inventory will likely be sold off as well.

“Unless I decide to just take it with me,” she joked. “I own it outright. Maybe I’ll just put it in a safe deposit box and hang onto it; jewelry doesn’t take up that much room.”

A new path

Brewer grew up in Arkansas and was a teen bride. Her first husband, Vern “Jack” McKinley, worked as a brick mason.

“He was very good,” she said. “But he decided he couldn’t keep doing that. We started out selling jewelry out of a little 75-cent suitcase we bought at a Ben Franklin.

“We got the first store in 1959, and had three or four stores in different places over the next few years. There wasn’t anybody could pack up and move a jewelry store like Jack McKinley.”

Over the next two decades they built the business, both in size and expertise.

“We took diamond classes, gemology courses, public speaking,” Brewer said. “He took courses in jewelry repair, and I took them in watch repair.”

The McKinleys moved to De Soto in 1985 and opened a store at 308 S. Main St., in a rented building. After a few years, they were looking to buy a place of their own.

“We were looking at an old building downtown, and they wanted $38,000,” Brewer said. “Our landlord, Cliff Lane, told us, ‘Well, if you’re going to spend that, you might as well buy this one.’ So we gave him something like $10,000 and assumed his loan.”

The couple had bought a house a few miles away, and in the late 1980s, they sold it and used the proceeds to pay off the business loan. They moved into the store building.

Changes big and small

The McKinleys slowly built a reputation for quality products and services, as well as becoming part of the community. The couple also took part in developing the Full Gospel Camp nearby.

“I have kind of used the store as a ministry,” Brewer said. “I like people, and I think they like me. People say, if you need something, take it down to Carol. I have tried to help people any way I can.”

Hairdresser Shelly Peanick of the Mona Lisa Hair Salon – just a few doors down at 314 S. Main – thinks Brewer, her regular customer, is far too modest.

“She wouldn’t say anything about herself, but she’s just an icon here in De Soto,” Peanick said. “She is a great Christian woman. A lot of people go in there just to talk with her, pray with her.”

Brewer shouldered full responsibility for the business after Jack died in 1995.

She said she soon learned, however, she was not equipped nor inclined to fulfill the role he had played.

“I contract out jewelry repair since Jack died,” she said. “It would have been a lot (for me) to learn, and I didn’t really like that kind of stuff; I’m more mechanically inclined – have been ever since I was a kid.”

Brewer remarried in 1997, to railroad worker Augie Brewer, and continued to run the store, mostly single-handedly.

“I’ve had a couple of girls in here to work, but it was mostly just me,” she said.

Peanick said businesspeople in De Soto look up to Brewer.

“It took a lot for her to run the business on her own for such a long time,” Peanick said. “She is sweet, but she is strong. I think people are going to realize, once she’s not here anymore, how important she is. She does a lot of things you just can’t get done anywhere else.”

Brewer said jewelry has evolved in ways that have affected her business.

“I worked on watches for years,” she said. “Then they went into these sports watches, and you can’t work on them; you’ve got to buy a new movement. But I still replace batteries, adjust bands, do cleaning.”

Strangely enough, Brewer said her business benefited from the pandemic.

“People didn’t want to go to St. Louis, and they were willing to take a chance on a little store here close to home,” she said.

Brewer said some people have been surprised at both her stock and her knowledge.

“I have some very nice things,” she said. “I know diamonds. I know what a good one is and I know what a bad one looks like. I want to sell you something that, 50 years from now, you can pass down to a grandkid and be proud of it.”

What comes next

After she was widowed again in 2019, Brewer began thinking more and more about giving up the life of a business owner.

“It’s not that I’m losing money,” she said. “But I’m not getting younger. Plus, I want to spend time with my family.”

She has already moved the manufactured home she owns to Arkansas, where it will be spruced up and sold.

“I’m going to go live at my son’s house in Tennessee,” she said. “The bottom level has what they call a mother-in-law’s quarters there, and it’s real nice.”

Her De Soto neighbors will feel the loss.

“It’s so sad she’s leaving us,” Peanick said. “She will definitely be missed. But I’m so happy her kids are going to take care of her. She has taken care of people all her life.

“She just a wonderful lady. I can’t say enough nice things about her.”

As for the business, Brewer said she is unlikely to get a buyer.

“Banks won’t lend on jewelry because it’s portable,” she said. “I’d have to finance it myself and I just don’t want to mess with that. I think I’ll probably just sell the building.”

She is amused by the concerns people seem to have that her future is blissfully unsettled.

“People keep asking me what I’m going to do next, and how should I know? I never retired before,” she joked. “I don’t know what’s going to happen five minutes from now, much less down the road. I’m just going to play it by ear and live by the seat of my pants.”

She said she will always be thankful, however, for the time spent in De Soto and the sense of community she found here.

“I came here quietly in 1985,” she said. “The De Soto paper back then wrote up a piece and put a picture of the ribbon-cutting. It said, ‘A jewel shines here,’ and I like to think I’ve been shining here ever since. I want to tell the people of De Soto I love them and I will pray for them.

“I’ll see you all later.”