In Del’s words
Del Delhaute wanted to make sure the community knew how much his six children — Celeste, Jeanette, Paul, CeCe, Jerome and David — helped with Del’s Jewelry through the years, so he wrote the following paragraph:
Our children have been a very integral part of the business. From early on, they have worked in the store, doing any job that was required of them. Consequently, they all have had business training early in their life. When we were in the toy business, they helped in stocking, pricing, as well as selling this merchandise. After school, they would come to our old store and help until closing. Our children have been a very definite part of the organization.
Steamboat Springs In 1946, Del Delhaute got a wife, a house and a job.
He kept all of them for the next 63 years.
And although nothing is changing with his wife, Marie “Decie” Delhaute, or with their house on Missouri Avenue, the job is coming to an end. After more than six decades of business in downtown Steamboat Springs, Del’s Jewelry is holding an extended, final sale to liquidate every item in the store. The sale began last week and continues through Jan. 9, 2010, Delhaute said.
But the store’s closing doesn’t mean Delhaute, 91, is slowing down. As a steady stream of customers came through the doors at 837 Lincoln Ave. last week, Delhaute worked the phones and the counters with aplomb, greeting old friends and directing several of his children who were on hand to help with the sale.
“Oh, I’m running like mad,” Delhaute said into the phone at one point, as a grin crossed his face. “It’s mostly confusion around here.”
That kind of atmosphere suits Delhaute fine. He said selling jewelry in Steamboat Springs — which is “always six months to a year behind the national trend” — is continually interesting. The fluctuations in preference between white gold and yellow gold, peridot stones or blue topaz, costume jewelry and gold or silver chains, new watches and new styles and “anything that glitters,” he said, kept him and his family on their toes every day.
“I never have a dull time,” Delhaute said. “You never know what the going thing is going to be.”
That’s also true about life, Delhaute said.
He met Marie in 1942, at a church hall dance in Alexandria, La. She was engaged to another man, but as she and Del began to spend time together, that engagement ended.
“After I met (Del) and we went out for a while, then I knew I wasn’t in love with the other man,” Marie said in 2006. “I wrote him a Dear John letter, which I hated to do, but love was love.”
Del then left for three years in the U.S. Army — doing supply and repair in Northern Africa and Southern France during World War II — and Marie waited for him. They were married in March 1946, and two weeks later, they moved to Steamboat Springs, where Del took a job in a jewelry store. He bought the store after a year.
’Til closing time
The Delhautes sold jewelry and, for a while, toys, at 820 Lincoln Ave., until about 1970. That’s when Del bought the building at 837 Lincoln and renovated it in two weeks, with plans that he said were sketched out on top of a 2-by-4 over coffee.
“Now, you have to have a permit for everything,” he said last week.
His daughter Cecilia, or CeCe, remembers that move clearly.
“He had people working 24 hours a day on it,” she said, while helping out with the sale last week. “We all grew up in the stock room of this store.”
Del and Marie’s six children all helped with the business through the years, Del said.
“They did everything,” he said about Celeste, Jeanette, Paul, CeCe, Jerome and David. “Anything that was necessary to be done, I would tell them what to do, and they did it.”
Del said Jeanette often put in long hours at the store.
“Jeanette would stay with me ’til closing time, and it might be 10 below out there, but we would walk home,” he said.
The trek home to Missouri Avenue was not always a time for father and daughter to dawdle, Del said — not on cold winter nights, at least.
“It was a quick walk,” Del said with a smile.
The family has a few final weeks before closing the doors on Del’s Jewelry. Del said he’ll keep ownership of the building — and expand on the back of it early next year — for retirement income. But besides that, he’ll be splitting time between Steamboat Springs and the family’s ranch in Arkansas.
“I’m basically a farm boy at heart,” said Delhaute, a Nebraska native.
He added a line that shows the resilience of someone who has seen more than 60 Steamboat winters.
“I hate the cold,” he said.
Debbie Smith, who rents space in the building for The Cut Above hair salon, said “you couldn’t have a better landlord” than Del, who she described as a father figure. Smith grew up on Logan Avenue, near the Delhautes.
“He’ll bring you lunch if you can’t get away, (and) on my birthday, he brought me flowers,” she said. “It’s going to be lonely up here without him.”
Angela Mecca has been Del’s jeweler for three years.
“It’s been a pleasure working with a local legend,” she said simply.
Mecca said she talks with Del often about the secrets to his longevity — at 91, Delhaute is energetic and hale, with the same honey-smooth, resonate voice that for years could be heard on local radio, giving tips about “the stone of the week.”
Mecca said Delhaute is a studier of herbs and supplements who swears by colloidal silver for the immune system, and fish oils — which Mecca now uses, as well.
“Anyone that’s in that good of shape tells you to take something, you take it,” she said. “He’s a well-oiled machine.”
Delhaute said he’ll miss the day-to-day pleasure of his job.
“A lot of people around here have bought their wedding bands and engagement sets from me,” he said. “Our enjoyment is selling something to somebody that they enjoy. … If you can make somebody happy in business like that, that’s what makes your day, every day.”
He said he appreciated all the people who walked through his doors throughout the years.
“I need to thank them for all of their friendship, as well as being loyal customers,” he said. “But being a customer comes second.”
Friendship comes first, Delhaute said.