Bubar’s Maintains Family Values

Bubar’s Jewelers is like a second home to owner Bill Bubar. His father, Nat, opened the Santa Monica store in 1945, two years before Bill was born, and the walls are adorned with his mother Gertrude’s paintings and pictures of his parents, sister and family friends.

                “Everything is a memory,” Bubar said. He pointed to one of several pictures of Inez Johnson, including a smiling Johnson celebrating her 99th birthday. Johnson joined the family in the jewelry business after first working in the Bubar home for many years. “Today you might have called her a housekeeper, but what she really was, was a keeper.”

11-Bill Bubar + Leonel Zepeda

                Growing up, the young Bubar would often hang out or work in the store, now located on 1457 Fourth St. He remembers its first location at 311 Santa Monica Blvd., where his father said J. Paul Getty would sometimes pop down from his offices above the store to have a pen refilled. At the time, the store offered not just jewelry and watches, but Oneida silverplate, photographs and Schaeffer pens.

                Today, the store not only displays fine jewelry from various designers, but also manufactures custom pieces and repairs both watches and jewelry. Bubar, who grew up in Pacific Palisades, and his associate, Leonel Zepeda, operate the store together.

                Zepeda, who first began to learn watchmaking and jewelry manufacture at seven years old in Guatemala, has stayed at Bubar’s for 25 years because “it’s a wonderful family,” Zepeda, 55, said. “I find the best boss in my life . . . I’ve worked in other stores, but it’s not like Bubar’s.”

                On a recent Tuesday, longtime customer Chirelle Looney happened by for advice on some of her jewelry needs. Looney and her mother, Catherine Hutchins, first began visiting the store in the 1960s after it had moved to 1327 Third St. between Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona.

                At the time, the street was nothing like today’s Third Street Promenade. People could drive down Third and park in front of the store. Woolworth’s was across the street, and Looney and her mother would visit Bubar’s from time to time, purchasing rings, necklaces, earrings and other items over the years.

                We kept coming back “because they were so nice,” Looney said. “His dad was so sweet. They seemed to bend over backwards to help you and make you feel welcome.”

                Bubar, a 1966 PaliHi graduate, remembers Third Street’s 1965 transition to the pedestrian Third Street Mall (since redesigned and renamed Third Street Promenade). At the time, the change could have meant the end of Bubar’s.

                The planners wanted shoppers to be able to access Third Street not just via cross streets like Arizona but also at the mid-points of each block, right where Bubar’s was located. They considered demolishing the 3,000-sq.-ft. store, but instead were convinced to allow creation of a back entry so shoppers could use the store itself as a throughway.

                “My father invested a huge amount of money,” Bubar said. “He created a beautiful, really phenomenal store” and in the process received an award for store beautification from the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce.

                However, by the late 1970s, the pedestrian mall was not attracting the customers needed to continue the store’s success, so in 1980, Bubar’s moved to the Frank Gehry-designed Santa Monica Place mall for 22 years. At the time, Bill Bubar had stepped away from the family business to work for 12 years in education at Overland Elementary, Laurel Elementary and Arlington Heights Elementary. But in 1985, he returned to the family business, and since the 1990s, when his parents and sister, Moreen Stein, a 1963 PaliHi graduate, passed away, he has owned and operated the store.

                “We’re pretty much the same store we were from the beginning,” said Bubar, who noted that he remains close to his sister’s husband, Ira, and son, Todd, a 1993 PaliHi graduate.

                Continuing their legacy by helping people select, maintain and create fine jewelry has been a joy for Bubar.

                “It’s service and quality—the kind of store where people feel comfortable, because we have a long history. In jewelry, that’s important—trust and service and quality.”



Staff Writer

Leonel Zepeda and Bill Bubar. Photo: Lesly Hall

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