By Deb Peterson • Photography by Deb Peterson and courtesy of Beth Carter • Style Kelly Householder-Giuliano
Beth Carter is a gem. While it seems a little corny to say you can find this gem of a woman in The Jewel Chest in Mountain Home, those of you who know her will agree that she is truly precious. She works hard and plays hard, just like pearls. Like an amethyst, she is clear-headed; like a sapphire, loyal and trustworthy; like a ruby, she bestows good fortune. When you take a life of humility and service to others, grounded in faith, the pressures of life result in a diamond—Beth Carter.
Beth has known what she wanted to do with her life since she started working at Horton’s Jewelry on the square when she was 15. She sized rings and made minor repairs, and she loved it. Until graduation, she worked beside Jimmy Horton and learned from him.
“I wanted to go to trade school,” Beth says about her choices after graduating from Mountain Home High School, “but to appease my parents, I went to one semester of college at ASU in Jonesboro.”
One semester was all it took to prove to herself and her parents that her heart belonged to the jewelry business. She transferred to Gem City College School of Horology in Quincy, Illinois to study the art of watchmaking and repair, clock repair, engraving, jewelry design, and diamond setting, and she absolutely fell in love.
It was there that she also fell in love with TC Carter.
“It was 1974, just after the Vietnam war,” Beth says, “and the school was full of GIs. I was one of only six women in a class of 200.”
TC stood out in the crowd. If you were to ask TC, he would likely say the same about Beth. TC had worked in his parents’ jewelry store in Georgia since he was 14. The two had a lot in common. They met in March and married in September so Beth could help at the Carters’ store before the busy holiday season. The store wasn’t big enough to support two families, so less than a year later, in the fall of 1975, Beth and TC visited Mountain Home to check out their prospects. They moved in January and opened their own store in the Harps shopping center in March with loans from Beth’s parents and Mr. Horton. They were only 21. TC made jewelry, and Beth ran the store.
“It never occurred to us that we couldn’t do it,” Beth says. “Mr. Horton went in half and never interfered in the business. He ran his own, and let us run ours.” Seven years later, Horton gave them the opportunity to buy his half of the store, and they did, but their relationship and friendship would endure. Beth is still friends with Jimmy’s daughter, Charlotte.
Beth has vivid memories of that first week in business, nearly 41 years ago. “We did $27 the first day and 25 cents the second,” she says. “It was scary, and I still truly appreciate every sale we make.”
That appreciation became one of the core values at The Jewel Chest, one that is still fostered today. “I try to make one sale as important as another,” Beth says, “whether it is $10 or $1,000. I’ll go to the nth degree to help someone find what they want.”
The company believes in providing that “extra little bit of flair,” as Beth calls it. They have fresh-baked cookies on the counter and hot coffee. They follow up with their customers when appropriate.
“We want every customer, every guest to leave saying, ‘Wow, they really bent over backwards to help,’ whether it is for a watch battery or a large diamond. We love it when we can exceed expectations.”
Beth teaches those values through example, by working alongside her employees. “We work as a team,” she says. “I still sweep the floor at the end of the day. I’ve been doing that for 40 years. Everyone pitches in. We have been so fortunate to have the most dedicated and hard-working staff I could ever ask to work with.”
She is often asked how she has been able to work all day every day with her husband. “It has never been hard for us,” she says, “in fact we thrived on it, and it made it easier for us to understand each other. It helped that TC and I really like each other and work well together. We had the same expectations.”
A few years after the young couple opened their business, Beth’s father died. “We were overwhelmed with acts of kindness,” she remembers of the response from her church family at First Baptist Church. It was her first experience with that level of compassion, and it would help shape the woman Beth was becoming.
“Through the years our church family at First Baptist has been extended family to us through both good and tough times, over and over from the birth of our boys to TC’s battle in 2004 with melanoma. Our church friends have always been there for us. These are special relationships and we will be forever grateful.”
Those experiences instilled in Beth the desire to give back to her community. The Jewel Chest is well-known in the Twin Lakes Area, and now West Plains, for several annual events that involve beautiful prizes studded with diamonds and gems. They started 23 years ago with their Carat Cake event that benefits The Baxter Bulletin’s Christmas Wish. During a weekend in November, the Carters sell carrot cupcakes for $5 each. Baked inside some of them are 300 gemstones and two 1/4-carat diamonds. The goal each year is to raise more than $5,000 to buy Christmas gifts for area children.
Fifteen years ago, they started giving away a diamond pendant at the annual Red White Blue festival in Mountain Home to raise money for the festival. This year the prize was a $3,600 Hearts on Fire diamond necklace. Each year the company raises $7,000-$10,000 for the festival.
They added a Diamond Dig for Kindness, Inc., giving away a diamond every day during the event, and this year raised money for the Schliemann Center for Women’s Health Education by playing a Beer Bong game at the Wurst Party Ever, an Oktoberfest event. And for five years now, Carter’s Jewel Chest has helped the hospital in West Plains raise money at its Blue Jean Ball, and has donated a pendant for an event at the college there.
“We like raising money for causes,” Beth says, “and it’s a good way for us to contribute to the community when we’re busy and can’t participate in other ways.”
Growing the Business
Beth and TC proved that they had a knack for the jewelry business. Business was good, and in 1985, the year their oldest son, Patrick, was born, they moved The Jewel Chest to the anchor position at Town East Centre, an office townhouse development the Carters helped build and now own with one other party.
In 1994, Beth had an opportunity to repay a kindness. George and Paulette Hill had moved to Mountain Home to buy Horton Jewelry. They visited First Baptist Church.
“Some of the very first people to make their way to meet us personally were Beth and TC,” Paulette remembers. “We were new business owners with two small boys, we knew no one, and had moved far from family. They had two boys, too, and when boating weather arrived, they invited us to go out on the lake with them Memorial Day weekend. I commented to Beth that we were competitors, and she quickly said, ‘We’re not competitors, we’re in the same line of work!’ They are some of the hardest working people I know, and they deserve much success because of how they treat people.”
In November 2003, TC was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma. He was out all of December, the company’s busiest month, and the entire following year. He had only a 15 percent chance of surviving the disease. The Carters’ second son, Christopher, filled in and helped run the store while attending college.
“It was never a goal to have the kids involved,” Beth says. Chris became interested a bit by accident. TC and Beth had invited a computer engraver to come in, and they asked Chris if he wanted to sit in. He did. For three days he watched the engraver run a CAD program, and he was hooked. He and his wife, Nicole, went to gemology school together in California, and both have been involved in the business ever since.
It was good timing. TC had recovered from his illness and in 2012 was ready to retire from the jewelry business and focus on other things, including beekeeping.
“While TC and I miss being together every day,” Beth says, “Chris and I are a good match working together. I consider it an awesome opportunity to work well with both my husband and my son. We are tickled to have Chris involved in the business now. He brings a whole different skill set. His focus is technology.”
Chris is also interested in the management side of the business. Beth gives him space to incorporate his own ideas. The company hires a jewelry consultant he can check with on occasion so he has an expert he can go to in addition to his parents. It gives him some additional autonomy.
“I always looked up to my mom,” Chris says, “but the way I looked at her changed when I started working with her when I was 17. She was not only an awesome mom, but I saw a completely different side of her then, the working side. I saw first-hand the passion and drive she had, and the incredible work ethic that is the backbone of our family business.”
He was also learning about generosity and community by watching Beth in action. “What makes my mom marvelous is her philanthropic heart,” Chris says. “This was something I never knew about because she never talked about what she did for others.”
Chris started noticing how his mother supported organizations throughout the community. He asked her why she gives so much. “She explained how she and my father had started the business with almost nothing, and it was the support of this community that allowed our business to succeed and make us who we are today. She taught me through her actions that we are blessed to be a blessing. I cannot imagine a better role model to work with every day, and I am lucky enough to call her mom. She truly is a marvelous woman.”
“I love working with Chris,” Beth says. “We get along like TC and I did.”
While Chris isn’t starting from scratch like his parents did, he joined the business during a down economy when the Internet was becoming competition, so he understands the struggle.
“The creative side, repair, and local relationships have been the key to surviving competition from the Internet,” Beth says.
At 62, Beth still loves the business and is not yet ready to retire. With Chris involved, she has some flexibility and is in and out of the store. She has served on the board of directors at North Arkansas Electric Cooperative for four years now and loves it.
“We’re all about local business, hands-on,” she says. “This is a great group of folks. When necessary their dedication goes way beyond their job description and they do whatever it takes. Remember the 2009 ice storm? We tend to take our electricity for granted, but it doesn’t just come to us without the efforts of a lot of people at NAEC. I appreciate their culture of customer service.”
Friends, Family, and Christmas
When Beth isn’t working, you will probably find her out on the water. She believes in working hard and playing hard, and local water has always been a draw.
“We are total water people,” she says. When they were first married, they had two cars. They sold one to buy a boat. Today, they have a houseboat and ski boat on Lake Norfork, and can be on the water 10 minutes after work.
“We float through life,” Beth says. “We feel very blessed to have raised our sons in Mountain Home. I am a graduate of MHHS and am proud Patrick and Chris are too. The term it takes a village to raise a child is so true, and we couldn’t have lived in a better village.”
Although Patrick and Chris have their own families now, the core Carter family remains close and often vacations together. Patrick lives in Alaska during the summer, where he has a flight business (he knew from the time he was 2 that he wanted to be a pilot!), and in Fayetteville the rest of the year, so he is close by.
“We took a dive trip in the Exumas, Bahamas on an old catamaran in beautiful waters,” Beth says. “My daughters-in-law were both certified to scuba dive on the trip, so the six of us could all dive at the same time in these pristine waters. It was one of the most serene experiences of my life.”
Their next big family trip was the polar opposite. They went to Yellowstone in the winter and rented snow mobiles. “It was fabulous,” Beth says, “and the second most serene moment of my life.”
In between, she and TC love to cruise and have enjoyed several sailing trips in the British Virgin Islands with friends. But her grandchildren remain her greatest joy.
“Our grandsons are the icing on the cake!” she says. “It sounds gushy, but there truly is a part of the heart you don’t even know is there until you see that first grandchild. It is fun and sometimes entertaining for TC and me to watch our boys raising their boys. We are very thankful they live close by and we are a part of their lives.”
Christmas at the Carter house revolves around The Jewel Chest, so family time at Christmas starts once the store is closed.
“We enjoy Christmas with our customers up until 4:30 or 5 on Christmas Eve,” Beth says. “I love Christmas Eve. Everyone is winding down to holiday mode. We try to get out of the store in time to attend Christmas Eve service at our church. It’s a special time for this mom and nana to have my family together for Christmas worship.”
After church they head home to start the holiday festivities with extended family and friends. Every year, they arrive home to find lasagna and chocolate chip cake, a Christmas gift from Janice and Clark Fletcher.
“Beth’s family moved next door to me when she was 8,” Janice says. “We spent many hours at the city pool behind our houses, chasing each other with cap guns, camping out on our carport, and later, sewing rose bud rice bags for her wedding. Over the years, I have admired her spirit of giving and her involvement in many great causes to improve our community, her church, and beyond. She’s always there to support friends through sad times. She’s a dear friend, and I’m proud of the woman she has become—pure class!”
“It is a fabulous gift for us each year because our work schedule before the holiday is very intense,”
Beth says of Janice’s annual Christmas gift. “After dinner it is family gift time and we enjoy the evening until exhaustion kicks in. Our grandsons have brought the wonder back into the festivities. They are so excited with every step, from their special ornaments and stockings to the nativity. Baby Jesus, the Three Kings, shepherds and animals get rearranged dozens of times during the holiday season. It is childlike fun for them, but even more fun for us watching them.”
Beth’s gift from TC comes from the store each year. She seldom picks it out, and it is often a total surprise, she says. TC hides it at the store. True to their dedication to their customers, it is available for sale and everyone knows about it but Beth.
Last year, Beth and TC started a new tradition, visiting Chris and Nicole on Christmas morning before the young family is off to spend the day with Nicole’s family. The day after Christmas Beth is back at work.
“There are always lots of jewelry gifts that need to be sized or adjusted, and we want to take care of them as quickly as possible,” she says.
Beth Carter is, without a doubt, the most precious gem at The Jewel Chest. “It’s a happy business,” she says. “We’ve enjoyed it.” Visit their website at cartersjewelchest.com. M! December 2016/January 2017