How a biologist will become the fourth generation to lead Heffern jewelry in Clayton
For the last 50 years, Kit Heffern has presided over the glittering inventory at Elleard B. Heffern Fine Jewelers, which traces its history through more than a century of businesses, several locations, and three generations of the Heffern family – with each iteration passed down from father to son.
Now, the fourth generation of Hefferns is getting ready to take up the mantle. In recent months, Webster Heffern has begun joining his father in the family business at their shop at 101 South Hanley Road in Clayton. In 1972, Kit went through the same rite of passage with his own father – but Kit isn’t quite ready to retire.
“It's a long-term relationship,” Kit said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “We have many, many clients who have been there for as many as five generations.”
It’s not just the brilliant gemstones and diamonds that keep him connected. Kit says that customers often bring in jewelry purchased at the store by their parents or grandparents; They come with questions about the purchase, asking about anniversaries or birthdays long past. For Kit, it’s like the store’s history is paying him a visit.
“It’s a real treat,” he said. “People really enjoy jewelry and the emotional connections.”
As for Webster, he said that joining the family business was an act informed partly by sentimentality.
“I didn't want to be that guy who just let his family's business close,” he explained. “It took me a while to figure out a path by which I could keep it open after my father's retirement.”
The path Webster hopes to lead will allow him to run the family business with a partner, while he also engages his passion for science – a pursuit that’s already earned him degrees in biology and math from MIT. Webster is currently a Ph.D. student in biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Webster’s talents in the non-jewelry arts don’t make him an outlier in the Heffern family legacy: Before Kit joined the business in 1972, he had graduated with an engineering degree, was hired by McDonnell Douglas and then worked on the F-4 Phantom II fighter jet.
On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Kit and Webster talked extensively about their unusual backgrounds and the enduring satisfaction of keeping their family legacy alive.
Kit said he plans to keep working, though he is targeting retirement by age 80. That decision is easier, he added, with Webster by his side.
"It's always nice having the generations continue," Kit mused. "But my father always taught me, don't push."
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.