Leesburg lost a stalwart of its business community March 3 with the passing of Roger W. Caulkins. During his funeral on Saturday, he brother, Stanley, announced that the store where they worked together since 1970 would close.
Roger Caulkins, 85, had been hospitalized after suffering an aneurysm three weeks ago.
He and his brother were fixtures on the downtown business scene for decades—dependably found behind the counter at Caulkins Jewelers, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in August.
Stanley Caulkins, also, is recovering from a stroke suffered six months ago that left him largely confined to a wheelchair. While his illness has dampened none of his energy or sharp wit, the 91-year-old was coming to terms with the need to close the Leesburg store even before his brother’s death.
In an interview last week, Stanley Caulkins recalled getting his start in the business. After serving as a radio operator aboard a B-17 during World War II, the GI bill helped him learn the watchmaking trade. He returned to Leesburg and went to work in a gift shop in the back of the Plasters clothing store at the corner of King and Market streets. When the former Flippo’s grocery store space came up for lease, he moved his shop a few doors down King Street, where he paid $250 a month in rent.
Roger Caulkins earned his degree in mathematics at the University of Richmond in 1953 and then worked as a mathematical engineer for Fairchild Hiller Corporation in Hagerstown, MD, for 16 years. In 1970, he returned to Leesburg to join his brother in the jewelry business. They worked side-by-side in that space until 2015, when a fire in an upstairs apartment forced the business to close temporarily. They reopened last year in the Virginia Village shopping center, supported by their long-time staff members. Jessica Shugge has been at Caulkins for 28 years, Violet M. Mallory and Bryan Chadwick for 16 years, and Eileen M. Mosholder for 11 years. Laura A. Lorenz has been the store’s bookkeeper since 1996.
While the store has continued decade after decade with a loyal clientele, Stanley Caulkins said the business has changed considerably. There’s not much use for watchmakers anymore, he said. “We are just battery monkeys,” he said. With the move to digital watches and then to smart phones that flash the time whenever someone picks them up, there are few calls for watch repair. Switching out dead batteries isn’t a successful business formula.
Caulkins said there would be a “soft closing” to wind down the store over the next few months, likely ending with a big sale, although plans have not been finalized.