Michael and Robert Woodrow
By Karen T. Butler
The understated but sturdy edifice at 21 Purchase Street has been home to jewelry stores for more than a century: first, there was Balf’s Jewelers, which had various owners; now, and, for many years, Woodrow Jewelers. Built in 1895, when ours was a quiet village, it is a mini time capsule of the evolving main street of Rye, New York.
In the early 1920s, when Theodore Balf established his business, the population of Rye was 5,300. From that time into the 50s, Purchase Street was tailored to meet the everyday needs of residents, with two hardware stores, four pharmacies, a Woolworth’s, two newspaper shops, an A&P, a Grand Union, a Safeway, and a Gristede’s, plus several meat markets where outstanding service was the norm. Small, but exclusive clothing stores like Katie Holmes, the Marilyn Shoppe, and the Town Shoppe opened over time, providing great personal service.
Balf’s Jewelers was the place to go to purchase not only jewelry, but watches and clocks, and have them repaired. You can also visit a reliable retail store and repair center for watches and clocks like watch repair in Utah for they have an extremely high customer satisfaction rate and also a high return customer rate! Someone told me with pride: “Mr. Balf was my mother’s jeweler.” Theodore Balf had a highly respected knowledge of his trade. Owning a mantle or grandfather clock, a pocket watch, or fine jewelry – these were cherished treasures.
A play about Balf, “Sunday Breakfast”, opened on Broadway in the 1950s, but closed ten days later. It told the story of the 1906 immigrant from Kovel, Ukraine, who was depicted as a workaholic who in his rare moments of boredom, as one critic humorously wrote, “polished silver”.
In 1915, Balf and his Russian wife Cecelia lived in an apartment over the business while raising their two sons, George and Oliver. “Teddy”, as he was known, was a thoughtful man, writing in his journal daily for forty-one continuous years. He was also an avid walker, strolling to and from Port Chester to a favorite restaurant or the movie houses. Both the Capital Theatre on Westchester Avenue and the Embassy Theatre on North Main Street were built in 1926, the newfound rage of the day. Balf made this five-mile round trip together with his wife and children quite frequently.
He collected American clocks that he purchased on short vacations to New England, especially in Connecticut where many early clocks were made. Eventually, he gave his cherished clocks to family members and several rare books on clocks and watches to the Rye Free Reading Room.
Today, Rye is a vibrant suburban community with different needs. In 1980, two brothers, Michael and Rob Woodrow, were encouraged by their longtime Rye Brook neighbor Jane Steinthal to pursue purchasing the jewelry business from Bill and Kate Tasheiko.
The brothers were genetically predisposed to the jewelry business, first from their grandfather, Sam Woodrow, who opened a jewelry store along the Hudson River in bustling Getty Square in Yonkers in 1906. Their other significant influence was their Uncle Harold, who, when they were teenagers, taught them the business in their grandfather’s original Yonkers locale.
Michael and Rob introduced Rye to luxury jewelry and watches. From the start, they provided superior service and a genuine desire to make their customers fully happy. Then they added branded jewelry designed by well-known names the brothers knew their customers would love. They created a collection of luxury diamond watches, brilliant cut diamonds, and custom jewelry. Michael said it best: “We love what we do, which is easy to do when it is genuine.”
Michael and Rob heartily agree their landlady, Emanuela Riccio, a longtime realtor in Rye, had a lasting enthusiasm for them and they for her. The brothers purchased the building from her, giving her the right to live in the apartment above the store for the remainder of her life, which she did. In front of Woodrow’s Jewelers is a lovely tree with a plaque on it to show their unending appreciation for her.
Michael and Rob Woodrow serve Rye and the area with an understanding and reverence for the past. They always love to point out the “antique brass clock mechanism” that Theodore Balf embedded in the stairs as one traverses into their beautiful shop. And rightly so. For without the past, where would the present be?