When Cheryl Stark first started making and selling jewelry on the Vineyard, she was 19 years old and the Island was a haven for young people looking for an escape from mainstream America.
The first summer she was here, 1966, she taught jewelry making at the Island Craft Center in the building off Main Street later occupied by Murray’s For Men. Then, with friends, she opened Silver and Leather at the top of Union Street. In 1969 she went solo in part of a garage on Water Street that later became the Black Dog Bakery. It was the kind of place where friends stopped in and chatted while she worked at her bench in the one-room studio/store.
Now, 45 years later, Ms. Stark and her business and life partner, Margery Meltzer, are co-owners of two thriving stores and an online jewelry business. But Ms. Stark maintains the same casual attitude and open door policy that she’s had since the late 1960s. Last Friday she threw a party to celebrate the business’s anniversary and to share memories of a professional lifetime of making jewelry — and friends — on the Island.
Around 200 people stopped in at CB Stark Jewelers on Main Street, Vineyard Haven, to eat cake, grab discount coupons for up to 25 percent off, and show off the CB Stark items that they had purchased over the years. “It just so happens that people love to point out how long they’ve had a piece,” Ms. Stark said.
CB Stark is probably best known for their charms and other memento pieces that celebrate the Vineyard, and many of the party guests valued their favorite items for the memories and milestones that they represent, as much as for the look and craftsmanship. Linda Unczur of Oak Bluffs, for example, still wears a bracelet from CB Stark’s first year of operation in 1966. She actually remembers the day that she bought it.
“The store was in a garage across from the root beer stand that was where the Chinese restaurant is now,” Ms. Unczur said. “My mother was having a root beer with her sister and I remember buying it with one of my first paychecks.” She hasn’t taken it off since.
“The bracelet has always meant so much to me,” Ms. Unczur said. “It has never broken. It was just put together nicely.” Talking about that long-ago purchase, she recalled the Vineyard of the 1960s. “It was quieter. It belonged more to Islanders. There was less traffic and fewer people. It was a very simple life.”
The proximity of Ms. Stark’s first shop to the steamship wharf made it a first stop for returning friends. “It was very exciting,” she said. “You’d know everyone getting off the boat. It would be the first thing they’d do, stop in and say, ‘Hi! I’m here!’ And I’d call people and say ‘Guess who’s here?'”
Julie Higdon, a fifth-generation Islander, has known Ms. Stark since she was a child. Ms. Stark is a family friend. Ms. Higdon used to spend time in the original store as a girl and has since collected a number of Ms. Stark’s pieces, including a diamond-embellished gold charm of the retired ferry Islander and one of Ms. Stark’s original Vineyard outline pieces with a little dangling bunch of grapes.
About 20 years ago, after both of Ms. Higdon’s parents died, she asked Ms. Stark to design a remembrance, which she has worn continually ever since. “It’s a necklace made out of my parents’ wedding bands and the diamond from the engagement ring,” she said. “She was friends with both my parents.”
At the party, Ms. Higdon used a 20-percent off coupon to buy a troll bead necklace and an Oak Bluffs road sign troll bead for a friend who just got a new job. “She and Margie do great stuff,” she said of Ms. Stark. “Hopefully they’ll have another 45 years.”
Tracey Overbeck Stead of Austin, Texas, and Chappaquiddick calls herself CB Stark’s number one fan. She bought her first piece from the store in the ’80s while vacationing here with her then-boyfriend, now husband. Since then she has amassed a huge collection, and everyone in the family has CB Stark Vineyard mementos, including cuff links, belt buckles, silver baby forks and spoons and picture frames. “We’re total CB Stark junkies,” she says.
Ms. Stead said that her two young sons are allowed to wear their Vineyard charm tie-on bracelets to school despite a restriction against jewelry because, as she describes it, “It’s our family tattoo, if you will.”
Many of the pieces in Ms. Stead’s vast collection commemorate important moments in her life. As a wedding gift, her husband presented her with a gold Gay Head Lighthouse charm on a necklace in honor of their wedding site. When the couple bought their first Vineyard home, Ms. Stead bought a gold necklace with a gingerbread cottage charm and an Oak Bluffs sign. This spring the purchase of a home on Chappy was similarly memorialized with a custom piece featuring the outline of Chappy in white gold with a diamond marking the location of the house.
Speaking on her cell phone, Ms. Stead took a quick inventory, “Right now I have on an Island tie bracelet, a diamond-encrusted bracelet, an anklet, a ring,” she said. ” I can’t get any more CB Stark on me unless I grow another limb.”
Since she was among the first 45 guests at Friday’s party, Ms. Stead was presented with a 25-percent off coupon. She speculates that she’ll use it to buy something from one of Ms. Stark’s two newest lines — a gingerbread cottage series and a wampum collection.
A professional photographer snapped pictures of the party attendees displaying their jewelry, and Ms. Stark plans to put together an anniversary album.
“It was very nice,” she said of Friday’s event. “I feel really good about the longevity of the store and how Margie and I still have the same values.”