Like many old family-owned businesses, Lakein’s Jewelers was started by a newly arrived immigrant. 29-year-old Isadore Lakein, his wife Anna, and their son Samuel, arrived in the United States from Russia in 1912. A second son, David, was born in 1915. Isadore started his jewelry business the year after arriving in the U.S. when he began selling a variety of goods door-to-door in the Fell's Point neighborhood of Baltimore. Lakein offered customers the option to pay in installments, and would return to collect regular payments. By 1929, he opened a store at 515 S. Broadway. His sons, Samuel and David (born in Baltimore in 1915), joined him in the enterprise.
Attention to detail and care for customers is imperative to the success of any small family business and Lakein’s is no exception. In a 2019 interview, present-day owner Warren Lakein shared how a customer had recently stopped in the shop, now located in Hamilton, to pick up a watch he left for repair—three years earlier. Despite the delay, the customer still found the repaired watch waiting and ready for pick up at the counter. The Lakein family applies the same customer-centered approach to the repair of watches of all kinds, whether it is a basic Timex, an expensive Rolex, a rare antique, or a sentimental treasure.
The threat of theft is present at all jewelry stores and Lakein’s has seen some losses. One old wrong was made right several years ago, when a plain manila envelope arrived at the store with no return address. The envelope contained a wedding band and an unsigned note reading: “I shoplifted it from your store about forty years ago, and I’m very sorry for that.”
The tradition of layaway and door-to-door service stayed with the family for generations. The business grew to include four locations in Baltimore including shops at 3221 Greenmount Avenue, the corner of Erdman Avenue and Belair Road, and at 5400 Harford Road in Hamilton. Isadore retired to Florida and started another location there before his death in 1962.
Warren Lakein, a current owner of Lakein’s Jewelers of Hamilton and grandson of the founder, grew up behind the Harford Road store in a small stucco house and recalled making house calls with selections of rings for people who requested something special. Lakein's continues to offer layaway accounts for up to eight months. Hundreds, if not thousands, of local Baltimoreans still shop at Lakein’s to buy special gifts for sweethearts or parents. Payments were made regularly for as little as one dollar per week back in the 1960s and 1970s. For some fortunate shoppers, those friendship and “going steady” rings led to engagement and wedding rings—including some still in use forty or fifty years later.
Customers have maintained their loyalty to the store for generations. Some customers own Lakein’s jewelry from forty to eighty years ago that has been handed down by their parents or grandparents. One customer received his grandmother’s engagement and wedding rings, which he later gave to his wife. They were purchased at the original store’s location just a few years after it opened on S. Broadway in 1929.
Lakein’s Jewelers is a remarkable reminder of the opportunities Baltimore offered to European immigrants in the early twentieth century. A hard-working door-to-door salesman from Russia could open a store in Fell's Point and grow the business over time to five locations. Regrettably, it also shows the challenges small businesses have faced in recent decades. Most of the stores have closed, including the original Broadway location, which closed in 2005. Fortunately, due to a loyal clientele and dedicated owners, Lakein’s Jewelers of Hamilton is still going strong.