When it comes to jewelry, sometimes the best things are found in the smallest packages. The same could be said for jewelers. While the large chain establishments have their place, there is something to be said for the smaller, family-owned-and-operated neighborhood gems like C. Aaron Peñaloza Jewelers in the Shops at Lincoln Heights.
Attention to detail, personalized service and the expertise of owners Aaron and Mary Peñaloza are just a few of the reasons that generations of the same families have counted on the Peñaloza name for their jewelry needs. “I am now seeing the grandchildren of people who bought their engagement rings from my dad’s shop in the 1970s,” says Aaron, who worked alongside his father for nearly 17 years.“It’s really cool to see someone still wearing and enjoying an old piece that I designed.”
The oldest of four children, Aaron Peñaloza is a descendant of jewelry royalty. Both his father and grandfather were employed by Hertzberg Jewelers, which was arguably one of the best-known jewelry stores of its time. His father left Hertzberg and embarked on a partnership with George Dennis before opening Peñaloza and Sons, primarily a wholesale business, in downtown San Antonio. Aaron cut his teeth at his father’s side, working summers polishing, injecting waxes and delivering jewelry all over town. Over the years, however, Aaron became fascinated with the retail aspect, and he began to focus on building that component of the family business. In 1990, Aaron realized his dream of owning his own retail shop when he and his wife, Mary, opened the doors of C. Aaron Peñaloza Jewelers in the Sunset Ridge shopping center, where they remained for 20 years. In 2011, they relocated to the Shops at Lincoln Heights. “We originally selected Alamo Heights for our business because we thought it was a great part of town that, at the time, was underserved by jewelry businesses,” explains Aaron. “Also, when I left my dad’s business, many of those customers lived in ’09, and Mary and I lived in Olmos Park, so it just seemed natural to keep our business here.”
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW
Aaron and Mary set out to fill a niche in Alamo Heights by offering an impressive selection of fine and custom jewelry, a signature bridal line (named after Aaron’s grandfather, Rafael) and an array of services ranging from repairs to appraisals. But what really sets this neighborhood gem apart is the focus on estate jewelry. “Estate really is our specialty,” says Aaron. “I’ve always enjoyed it because of its ties to the past, the craftsmanship and the different design sensibility.” Once a year, Aaron and Mary clear out all the jewelry from the cases and fill the store with nothing but estate pieces for the annual estate jewelry sale. Now in its eighth year, the estate sale will take place Nov. 3-15 and will feature pieces ranging from the Victorian to retro eras, many of which have been consigned from customers. “The advantages to buying estate pieces are that they are usually less expensive and they are unique,” explains Mary, adding that estate doesn’t have to be a period piece. “It simply means pre-owned,” she says. “We have some pieces that are very contemporary.” Buying estate pieces, as with buying any piece of fine jewelry, should always be done carefully and from a trustworthy jeweler. Part of what keeps the Peñaloza customers loyal is the knowledge that they can always deal directly with Aaron or Mary. Aaron, who holds credentials from the Gemologist Association of America, is a registered jeweler with the American Gemologist Society and a charter senior member of the National Gem and Jewelry Appraisal Association. He always enjoys sharing his expertise and broad knowledge with his customers. “You get experience, continuity and traditions when you work with a small jeweler for many years,” says Mary. “And you want someone that you can trust who has credentials, longevity and involvement in the community.”
THE PERFECT SETTING
Community involvement is important to the Peñalozas. Not only is C. Aaron Peñaloza Jewelers a fixture in Alamo Heights, so are the owners. Mary and Aaron have spent all 43 years of their marriage living and working in this neighborhood that they love. Their two children (now grown) attended Alamo Heights schools, and Mary has served on several committees and boards that benefit the community over the years. “We love it here, and we love the old neighborhoods,” says Aaron. “The convenience factor is huge. It is so centrally located, I can ride my bike to work.” To say that Aaron enjoys biking is an understatement. An avid cyclist in college, he picked the habit up again several years ago after learning that he suffered from high blood pressure and high cholesterol. “I was a couch potato for 20 years,” he admits. “I started riding again to address these health issues.” Today, Aaron rides at least 20 to 40 miles two times a week and 40 to 60 miles on the weekends. Weekends are also a time for family and friends. The couple enjoys spending time with their two grandchildren, and Mary in particular relishes what she calls the “envelopment” of a small community like Alamo Heights. “It’s fun to live in a neighborhood for years and get to know all the kids and grandkids,” she says happily. “The world is a big, scary place, and being in a neighborhood like this where you see people you know all the time is wonderful.”
Photography by CASEY HOWELL