There is a wall dividing the back room of Payson Jewelers. Owners Robert and Melissa Higginbotham had it installed many years ago in the 1,100-square-foot shop. On one side, a place for all his jewelry tools, tables covered with clamps, grinders, soldering guns, pliers, loupes and hammers. And on the other side of the wall, a typical office space — her place.
The wall acts as a barrier, a place for each, the jeweler and office manager, to work unhindered. A cutout in the wall, Melissa points out, is the window of communication.
“I don’t step on his toes and he does the same,” she says.
The Higginbothams have been married 32 years and in business nearly 30.
That works out to roughly 7,800 days the couple has worked alongside each other, nearly all of that in Payson Jewelers shop, at 240 E. Highway 260, next to the Pizza Factory.
Not only has the business thrived without a single traumatic layoff, but their marriage is as strong as ever — feats most us dream of.
“We have worked together all these years and we still like each other,” Melissa said. “Neither one us would do this without the other.”
As the couple gets ready to celebrate their 30th year in business, they say they have no plans of slowing down; retirement remains a distant thought.
Memories of the couple’s beginnings 34 plus years ago are as sharp as ever.
They met in a Valley church. Longtime friends, one day they realized they wanted much more. She was 30, he was 25.
They married and when their daughter Alicia was 2 and Melissa was eight months pregnant, they moved to Payson to raise their children.
“Twenty-nine years ago today I was heading down the bad roads to Phoenix eight months pregnant with a toddler while he set up the shop so I could go to the doctor,” she said at the store last week, the day of her 63rd birthday.
The couple said they chose Payson because it was safe and it offered their children a place to camp, ride their bikes and generally be free.
“In 1984, Payson had 5,000 people,” they said. “The sidewalks rolled up at 8 o’clock.”
“We came here to be a part of the community, we came here to raise our children and give back.”
They opened up Payson Goldworks in the back of Joey’s Gold. Three years later, they had their own shop where Walgreens is today. In 1992, they changed their name to Payson Jewelers.
Compare an ad from then to today and they look nearly the same, Melissa said. We buy and sell gold and silver, estate jewelry and create custom pieces.
“We have never changed our business model in all these years. We are doing exactly what we have done since 1984,” she said.
A solid business plan helped them weather the recession without any staff layoffs.
Jeweler Bill Witte has been with the couple 17 years and jeweler Jason Huffman, seven years.
When jewelry sales slowed down, Melissa explained they bought gold. When gold slowed down, jewelry sales picked back up.
Repairs have always remained steady and Huffman holds the record for replacing 63 watch batteries in one day. Witte said he had repaired everything from Avon jewelry to a horse bridle.
In her office, Melissa logs the daily foot traffic on a calendar. For August, the lowest number in one day is 57; the highest, 115.
“We have consistent customers all day long,” she said.
While the flow of business shows no signs of slowing, neither do the Higginbothams.
“We have always thought of ourselves as turtles,” Melissa said. “We get up every day and go to work and get the job done. We weren’t in it to get rich, we weren’t in it to get any more than raise our children, give ourselves employment and have a comfortable life.”