When Kay Cameron was a child, was she drawn to sparkling stones?
Did she have an aunt or relative whose necklaces, earrings, bracelets or rings set off a glamour-girl bell?
“No,” she said. “Never. I was on staff then at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital and a private duty nurse,” she said of her eventual career choice. “At Southside Hospital, there was someone selling jewelry. I purchased some items and she asked me, ‘Why don’t you sell jewelry?’”
There’s a story here, but first things first. Kay Cameron will be retiring Nov. 1 after starting her business in 1983, then opening her Sayville Main Street storefront in 1987. Manager Trish Tom, a longtime employee, is taking over the business as owner. The store name, Kay Cameron Jewelers Inc., will remain.
Cameron has longtime generational associations with area families like the Swezeys and the Tuthills as a private nurse in her previous life.
Her journey has had its share of challenges, although Cameron is emphatic when she says she has a wonderful life.
“The day after the stock market crashed and I was about to open, someone who was loaning me $20,000 for my display cases had to back out,” she recalled. Two salespeople lent her $10,000 each; she paid them back promptly.
On the big day, “Priscilla Swezey [Knapp Teich] came walking down the street with a big bouquet of flowers.”
Before the store was established, Cameron hauled boxes and tables to just about every hospital on Long Island, as well as to homes for house parties selling jewelry. After establishing her Sayville store, there were times she was so absorbed marking her items after a trip to Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road, she’d look up and discover she was at the last stop, in the stockyards of Brooklyn; the motorman had to chug back to Jamaica for her transfer.
Because of the store’s expertise, you can’t miss the lines outside the store on the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Mother’s Day.
“I had a store in Stony Brook for a couple of years and a lot still come from there,” Cameron said.
As for other areas, “Oh my God,” said Tom. “We have people from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey [who] come for ear piercings and jewelry.”
“Also, they’ll call in with requests,” added Cameron.
Philanthropic events here have occurred at least once a year, like breast cancer support, where visitors had a chance to win a free item, like diamond earrings, and proceeds went to the organization. Her generosity is prodigious.
(Cameron didn’t bring anything up. She is modest and matter-of-fact about her involvements; it’s a kind of ‘that’s just what you do in life.’)
There are too many boards and awards to list with this woman, but Sayville Chamber of Commerce president, American Lung Association, Sayville Music Booster of the Arts, were among them.
“You were Woman of the Year for Mercy Center, too,” reminded Tom.
Cameron, who lives in Sayville, raised three boys and a girl, and credits husband Don with support. (He buys her stylish, fashionable outfits. What a guy! And also created her computer system when they first emerged. Don got his doctorate in the field.)
“I couldn’t have done it without him,” she said earnestly. “He helped me every step of the way.”
Cameron admitted that selling was what clinched her passion (she helped her mom when she worked at the Bobbi Lynn Shop in Flushing) and selling jewelry successfully is an art. You have to study lines, keep abreast of stones and styles, and have a knack for what looks best on people, especially women. “We’ve always gotten the hot,” she said.
“We’ve taken diamond and jewelry courses,” added Cameron of her and Tom. “We go to shows and attend lectures. And there have been new gems that have been found since I started.
“Trish is a perfect fit,” Cameron continued of her successor. “She’s very dedicated. Ninety percent of the customers come in and ask for her. And she’s honest. She’s great at decorating the store and is great at figuring out what pieces look best on people.”
Tom, a Sayville High School graduate who now lives in Bohemia, came to Cameron’s business in the early 1990s. She’s been manager for the last four years and Cameron’s top salesperson for the last 24 years. “Kay has been a mentor,” said Tom sincerely.
“How did you come to me?” asked Cameron.
“I just walked in,” answered Tom.
As for Tom, she has always been enamored of jewelry. “My grandmother always had a fashion thing,” she recalled. “I’m the only one in the family that does.”
Tom, who is married, has two daughters, Alexandra and Victoria; Alexandra has worked at the store.
After retirement, Cameron mentioned taking a cruise and being able to walk the track with friends at the Patchogue Family YMCA. One of them is Nick Wartella, who worked with Cameron part-time for 25 years.
“I started with Kay the first week she opened,” he said. “She’s been a friend and the most honest person I ever worked with. She’s a delight.”
Sayville Chamber of Commerce president Eileen Tyznar said, "We will miss Kay Cameron, the 'sparkling gem' of our Main Street Kay has added so much to our community! Kay has always supported Chamber with her modest benevolence, always giving to everyone and donating to all fundraising events and always dedicating her time to Main Street beautification projects. We wish her luck in her well earned retirement and know that her 'shine' will be everlasting in Sayville."
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