HOUGHTON - For nearly 20 years, Laiti Jewelers occupied a familiar corner of the Copper Country Mall. Today customers can find the longstanding family business in downtown Houghton.
In 2010, fourth-generation jeweler Mark Butke reopened Laiti Jewelers next to the Ambassador on Shelden Avenue. With its natural-stone and glass window facade, the business makes a sleek addition to Houghton's downtown shopping experience.
"It was always a dream of mine to recreate the same type of store my father worked at when I was a kid," he said. "We actually got the blueprints from the original store and were able to recreate it."
Daily Mining Gazette photo
The storefront of Laiti Jewelers in downtown Houghton showcases a variety of jewelery available in their showroom.
The store his father, Robert Butke, worked at in downstate Traverse City was called Martineks Jewelers and was "the most beautiful store in the world," Mark had ever seen. Growing up, he started out helping his dad with displays, marveling at the store's charm and elegance. Tiffany colored lamps, large glass windows and dark-stained wood trim left an impression on him.
"We have pictures from the old store," he said. "That's where the idea for the front glass and curved ceilings comes from. We upgraded with oak and a little brighter wood."
While plenty of natural light enters the store through the large windows, three crystal chandeliers at the center of the showroom ceiling cast an elegant glow over the glass display cases.
A fascinating addition to the new location is the diamond privacy room situated at the back of the store. Disguised by a mirrored window, the room offers a safe getaway when shopping for diamonds for that special someone.
"In a small community, everybody knows everybody," Mark said. "It's hard to surprise a gal when everybody knows you bought a ring before she did."
Privacy rooms are popular in larger city jewelry stores and are unique in that shoppers can sneak in, make a purchase and sneak out the back if need be.
"You won't be seen by anyone in the public," he said. "If we're busy, we can even sneak you out the back door."
Laiti Jewelers has a solid reputation in the Upper Peninsula for maintaining one of the most advanced gold working shops, having introduced the area's first laser machine repair system.
"The laser, because it's fired on a rail, is actually soldered underneath a microscope so we can see things in extreme detail," he said. "It really aids in making the repair work a lot better because it takes a lot less softening of the metals from the heat. It turns out a much nicer finished product."
Laiti Jewelers is the largest jeweler in the three-county area, carrying the widest selection of engagement rings, and by far, offering the largest inventory.
Mark said he works with well over 1,000 different companies to help customers find what they're looking for. Another option is one-of-a-kind custom-made jewelry.
"We've been doing that now for over 20 years," he said. "A lot of times, people come in with family diamonds that they've had for years and we create a piece."
Full jewelry and watch repairs are offered in the store's state-of-the-art service department. And, Mark's father happens to be one of the last watchmakers, trained out of Pennsylvania, left in the area.
"So many people have really great old watches and even some newer ones that are mechanical," he said. "He's here every morning."
Laiti Jewelers maintains high quality standards with every item they sell.
In fact, Mark's philosophy is "you shouldn't be selling anything you can't fix."
"That's what's made us grow so big I think because we fix everything," he said. "Our repair service has brought us to where we are today with the quality standards of what we try to keep in our jewelry and also fighting for best prices."
While Laiti Jewelers first opened when Robert purchased the business in Hancock in 1980, their family history in the business dates back much farther.
Mark's great-grandfather got into the jewelry business in the late 1800s, followed by his great uncle who carried on the tradition. While living and working in several jewelry stores in the Detroit area before moving to Traverse City, Robert decided he wanted to raise his family in the Copper Country and open his own store.
"I kind of fell right into it, repairing clocks all through high school," Mark said. "It's interesting when you go to somebody's house to fix their grandfather clock and they shut the door on you because you're just too young."
Following high school, Mark started doing gold work, completing his training out of Southfield, Mich., before returning to Hancock.
Laiti Jewelers has seen many developments over the years, including the opening of a second location in Ontonagon in the early 1990s. Eventually the Hancock store relocated to the mall where business flourished for nearly 20 years before moving downtown.
"When everything goes very smoothly and it falls in your lap, it's something that's meant to be," Mark said. "Everything went very smooth."
Support from downtown businesses is what Mark said made the move a success.
"They work together quite well to do the best so we can all make it a better environment for the shoppers," he said.
Laiti Jewelers is located at 120 Shelden Ave. in Houghton. Business hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday through the holiday season.
For more information, call 482-0270.