Photo courtesy of Wesley Calhoun.
1211 Wallace-BurkeThe team at Wallace Burke: David Hezlep, Preston Foy and Shannon Neil.
At Wallace-Burke in SOHO, funky, modern, colorful glass sit above a circa 1850 tea caddy or a circa 1820 Chamberlain oval platter. In the front of the store are safari animal-covered vases handmade in Africa and Christmas trees and dogs made from recycled paper. Surrounding the jewelry showcases are a second century A.D. candlestick, silver serving pieces and jade boxes. There are also angels, crosses and signature garden lady sculptures made from Alabama clay by Birmingham artist LeaAnne Berryhill.
Every part of the store has a story to tell, and it’s all hand selected by longtime Birmingham jeweler David Hezlep.
A specialist in resourcing, Hezlep can find any artifact, antiques or collector’s item someone calls asking for.
“Our customers are really just our friends,” said Preston Foy, Hezlep’s business partner. “We get to know them and what they like, and we’ll call them when we find something we think they will like.”
Each time you walk in the store you’ll find either Hezlep, Foy or sales associate Shannon Neil—no one else—to assist your shopping. They know that jewelry is not about a diamond as much as the thought that goes into it when a man tears up as he gives it to his wife for an anniversary.
In the store’s showcases you’ll find classic jewelry looks among one-of-a-kind pieces like a stingray bangle with a jewel design or a burnt orange diamond custom cuff. Hezlep and Foy like to buy estate jewelry (but not off the street) to use as raw materials for new creations. They design each piece themselves and then subcontract out the handiwork, cherry picking a jeweler—many of them “mom and pop” businesses— according to their talents for each step of the process.
“And it’s still priced extremely well,” Foy said.
In a market flooded with jewelry retailers, Wallace Burke emphasizes their quality.
“You see jewelry branded in advertisements that is very pretty,” Foy said, “but there is a portion of it that isn’t built well enough to last for the next generation. We offer jewelry for the same price that your daughter will be able to wear one
Wallace Burke formed when, after 36 years working for a Birmingham retailer, Hezlep decided to start his own business and enlisted the partnership of longtime friend and Fairhope native Foy, who had been a national representative for DeBeer’s. The new venture, opened in 2007, allowed Hezlep to capitalize on his talents, to hand pick everything in the store, try new things and think outside the box.
Together the two have 72 years experience in the business and have logged thousands of miles traveling all over the planet in jewelry-related endeavors. The store’s name came from the partners’ middle names.
They found a spot in SOHO where Hezlep envisioned the interior’s layout, design and homey feel complete with a TV for sports watching, living-room-like area and bar. They had known they wanted to be in Homewood close to the clientele that Hezlep had built previously but where they also could still grow their customer base.
“We had a vision to do jewelry and giftware in a different fashion than the rest of Birmingham,” Hezlep said.
Just like in the day-to-day running of the store, the two were hands-on during construction, arriving at the site at 6 a.m. every morning. Together they re-stained 70-year-old showcases themselves from A&A Ash Jewelers after it closed downtown.
As we were interviewing Foy for this story in mid-November, Hezlep was recovering from an accident. The phone calls flooding in asking about him (he will be back at work in the store by December when the paper prints) testify that relationships are truly the center of Wallace-Burke.
“David has such a loyal friendship base,” Foy said. “He has done so many personal things for people, but he does it quietly.”