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Peter Virag (owner), Denise Wurl & Terri Virag Klauke, Virag Jewelers

The rich history of one of the oldest businesses on Main Street

· Jewelry,Gifts n Collectibles
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Tell us about your business. What do you do or sell?

Owned and operated by the Virag family for over 80 years in Evanston, IL, we provide exceptional sales and service for diamonds, engagement rings, fine jewelry, watches and clocks. Our loyal customers have trusted us with the care and repair of their watches, clocks, fine jewelry and treasured heirlooms for generations.

Pete has been with the store since college, eventually taking over from their father in the 1980s. He keeps the jewelry, watch and clock repair side of the business ticking.

His sister, Terri, brought her entrepreneurial, management and customer service experience to the store from her earlier career, and was instrumental in bringing more focus on jewelry, including bridal/wedding, fashion, and fine jewelry.

Pete’s wife, Denise, spent most of her career in design and technology, and applies her expertise to custom jewelry design, visual merchandising and marketing.

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Why did you start this business? If you were a superhero, what would your origin story be?

Our origin story stems from Pete & Terri’s grandfather, who boldly started the business at the height of the Great Depression in 1936 — he’s definitely a superhero in our eyes!

It begins with our grandfather, Peter, who worked as a second-generation watchmaker in his father’s jewelry store in Austria-Hungary, which became part of Yugoslavia after WWI.

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In 1921, Peter and his family immigrated to Chicago where he spent 14 years working as a bench jeweler in the Jeweler's District at Madison and Wabash. By 1936, during the Great Depression when employment was scarce, Peter made the bold decision to open his own business, first located at 910 Chicago Avenue in Evanston.

Within a couple years in the late 1930s, Peter’s son Adam joined the business after graduating high school, along with Peter’s son-in-law Frank. The name is changed to Peter Virag and Sons Jewelers.

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Adam is drafted into the Army in 1942. Utilizing his watchmaking skills, he repaired essential timepieces and rangefinding equipment. His duties also included testing soldiers' watches to make sure the timepieces were synchronized and ran properly, and he was stationed in England as the Allies prepared for the D-Day landing. He returned home in 1945.

When the bank wanted to add a drive-thru in the early 1960s we moved to our current location at 703 Main. (We love being a part of all the unique shops on Main Street!)

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Two of Adam’s four sons, Tony and Pete, started working full-time in the 1970s and eventually became owners after their uncle retired. The name was changed to Virag Jewelers Ltd. Adam continued to work part-time through the 1990s and gradually retired after more than 60 years in the jewelry business.

In the late 1980s Adam’s youngest son, Joe, began working full-time. Adam’s fifth child and oldest daughter, Terri, became jewelry buyer and office manager in the early 2000s and a few years later Tony departed to own and operate a jewelry store closer to his home in the south suburbs.

What's the story behind the name of your business?

Obvious! :) If you’re wondering about our last name, pronounced Veer-ahg, it’s a Hungarian word meaning flower.

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What sets your business apart from others that sell the same products?

In addition to diamond and gemstone jewelry, we carry several popular lines of affordable fashion jewelry along with a growing selection of handcrafted jewelry by local artists. Customers also look to us to redesign their jewelry or create new pieces, often using stones they already have.

What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about opening a business?

From the perspective of an 80+ year old business, it’s easy to become complacent with the way your store operates. No matter how long you’ve been in business, it’s essential to keep looking at it with fresh eyes.