By Cindy Starr
Event planners looking for a beautiful venue could not find one more dazzling than Richter & Phillips Jewelers at 6th and Main downtown. The glittering scenery inside this historic bank building is something to behold, and the venue’s rental fee for nonprofit organizations is eye-popping as well: $0.00.
For years the family-owned jewelry store has been a popular venue for nonprofit fundraising events. Its jewelry showroom is the largest in Cincinnati, and it features the Tristate’s largest on-site diamond collection.
Now the jewelers are expanding their venue offerings to include the basement’s large walk-in bank vault – impressively re-imagined with the assistance of DIGS as a swanky, 1920s speak-easy lounge. The Vault, which can accommodate 30 people, serves as an adjunct gathering space to large events staged throughout the store as well as a meeting location for nonprofit boards or affiliated groups. The Vault, like the showroom, is available to nonprofit organizations at no cost.
“There is quite simply no other space like it, downtown or otherwise,” says Eric Fehr, vice president and graduate gemologist for Richter & Phillips. “Besides being unique and cool, it is also a true celebration of Cincinnati’s history. Where else can you walk into an original vault in one of the longest running businesses in Cincinnati? Here you can have a truly authentic experience spanning from 1896 to the present day.”
Adds Rebecca Schaeper, Richter & Phillips’s marketing and events director, “If nonprofits don’t have an office and need a meeting venue, this is a free space for them to meet in.”
Richter & Phillips, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary, is in its fourth generation of family ownership. The late Frederick W. Fehr, a traveling diamond salesman, purchased the store in 1930 after it filed for bankruptcy during the Great Depression. Frederick Fehr Jr. took over the store in 1970, and Frederick “Rick” Fehr III leads the company today.
The original store was located in the Temple Bar Building at Court and Main. It moved to the east side of 6th and Main in 1977 and to its current location at 601 Main in 2016. During the first few years, the vault sat idle, an opportunity awaiting discovery.
Today, it is an eclectic recreation of 1920s design. Original white marble stairs lead to an intimate space behind the vault’s imposing steel door, where an emerald-green couch, period light fixtures and fully stocked bar serve as focal points. One wall includes framed Richter & Phillips advertisements from the 1920s catalogues. They showcase a wide variety of luxuries, including sparkling “kneelets” and “anklets” – encrusted with “white brilliants” for $5.50 – and a white gold-filled buckle and belt chain set for $5.00.
The vault also serves as a private shopping space, where anyone from special guests to couples shopping for an engagement ring can view high-end jewelry. Better yet, Richter & Phillips has opened the space to offer free educational opportunities for young couples who are buying luxury jewelry – most often an engagement ring – for the first time. The jeweler’s Drinks & Diamonds seminars, hosted bi-monthly and led by Eric Fehr, have been a hit with younger customers, who desire information and transparency prior to making a major purchase.
“People, especially younger people, like to be educated about their jewelry, Schaeper says. “They want to understand the evolution of a diamond, or the story behind a special estate piece. For us, a brick-and-mortar location, the experience and a good story is everything.”
At Richter & Phillips, philanthropy is another core value.
“Richter & Phillips is an institution built on principles like honesty, trust and service,” says Eric Fehr, the son of Rick Fehr. “Those are not things we believe in simply because it makes us successful in selling jewelry. It’s just the way we operate as a business and as members of the community. Cincinnati is a small city and a big town. Most of our customers are our friends, neighbors. They are leaders in different businesses, nonprofits, all types of organizations. It is important to give back when we can.”
Fundraisers spread across the showroom can accommodate up to 250 guests. When Richter & Phillips stages its own events, such as “Whiskey and Watches,” it chooses the charity it will support. When it hosts events for partner organizations, it helps those organizations create the event they desire.
The long list of beneficiaries includes Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Dragonfly Foundation, Lindner Center of HOPE, Boomer Esiason Foundation, Dress for Success, Hoxworth Blood Center, Impact 100, JDRF, Junior League, and Cincinnati Opera’s Center Stage Associates. In addition to providing the venue at no cost, Richter & Phillips organizes raffles and games and donates a percentage of any sales during the fundraiser to the partner charity.
For Rick Fehr, fundraising events are among the highlights of his job. Watching faces light up at the sight of so much glitter never gets old. “People want to have fun, have an experience,” Fehr says. “We are able to offer that.”
Photos by Lance Adkins
This content made possible by Richter & Phillips.