Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Brenner’s Jewelers


My wedding ring, from Brenner Jewelry.

Wednesday was my 42nd wedding anniversary. The picture above (can you tell I’ve been washing my hands a lot?) shows my wedding ring. My wife’s engagement ring and wedding ring match and were purchased back in 1977-78 at Brenner’s Jewelers at the corner of Hazel Street and West Federal Street in downtown Youngstown. I probably knew Brenner’s best because it was just down the street from McKelvey’s where I worked during college. I also had a friend from high school who worked there for a while. I bought my wife’s rings on credit and paid them off by the wedding.

John Brenner started out in the jewelry business training with a Mr. Barkody for five years. He then incorporated his business in 1904 as the John Brenner Jewelry Company with capital stock of $20,000. At this time the store was located at 117 W. Federal in the Kress Building. In 1932 Brenner’s move down the street to its location at Hazel and Phelps in the complex of buildings connected with McKelvey’s. He established a business in diamonds, watches and all kinds of jewelry, enjoying a fine reputation in the business community. In researching this article I found a number of examples of watches and jewelry with the Brenner name. Interestingly, he was also president of the Youngstown Cattle Company, raising cattle and growing fruit on large holdings he owned in Cuba!


The old John Brenner Jewelry Co. in the Kress Building at 117 W. Federal

It was a family business, with Conrad Brenner as Vice-President, and Carl Brenner as secretary and treasurer.  Carl Raymond Brenner, Jr. was born in 1931. After military service in the Air Force in Japan from 1953 to 1955, he returned to Youngstown and joined the family business and eventually became president of the business. In time, he expanded their business to three stores in Youngstown and Boardman. Eventually the downtown store closed before the demolition of the former McKelvey buildings in 1982.

“Ray” Brenner was active in the Youngstown community. He served on the boards of the Community Chest/United Appeal, Better Business Bureau, Downtown Board of Trade, Planned Parenthood and the Youngstown Symphony Society. He served as president of the Boardman Youth Center and led the funding drive to build a new Youth Center. He was He was a member The Youngstown Club, the Youngstown Country Club, Elks Club, and the Boardman Swim Club.

He led the business for fifty years, which would be into the 2000’s. His obituary from 2012 mentions how much he loved working with a young man buying an engagement ring. I did not have the fortune to meet him but friends who knew him spoke highly of him. I don’t ever remember TV ads for the store. The phrase that comes to my mind for the store downtown was “understated refinement.” Both young men like me and the wealthy of the city were equally welcomed and well-served by a business that endured over 100 years. Many of my generation will always remember the Brenner name. I carry that memory on my ring finger.

16 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Brenner’s Jewelers

  1. Brenner’s is a very special store to me, too. When my Dad wanted to propose to my Mom on Valentine’s Day 1940, he talked with Ray Brenner, Sr. about it, explaining he didn’t have the money for a down payment, but maybe he could bring my Mom to the store and show her the ring he had picked out for her. Mr. Brenner gave him the ring and told my Dad, “If she says ‘Yes,’ you can pay me later. My Dad walked out with the ring. She said ‘Yes,” and he paid Mr. Brenner later.

    Thirty-plus years later, I worked at Ira Thomas Associates advertising agency, and Mr. Ray Brenner, Jr. was my day-to-day client. There were several award-winning TV commercials for Brenner’s Jewelry, which I wrote and produced. A WYTV film photographer (Jack Hake) shot and edited them. Even after I moved from Youngstown to St. Louis, Ray Brenner, Jr. and I kept in touch. I loved that store and the people who worked there. The Cellar Shop (in the Downtown store), was my go-to place for gifts. And Mr. Brenner, Jr. gifted me my entire set of Sterling slyer flatware — one setting at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Hello,
        Ira is on LinkedIn: Ira Thomas 1st degree connection 1st
        Photographer; Treasurer INFOCUS Photography Support Group of Phoenix Art Museum

        I used to have his email address, and we corresponded for many years. However, I had a mishap with my laptop a year or so ago and lost a lot of my email info. Ira lives in Phoenix now. I think Tiki remarried, but not sure where she lives now.

        Your name sounds familiar. Did I know you?


        Liked by 1 person

  2. Just enjoyed the piece about the Brenners my wedding ring also from Brenners, although the marriage didn’t the ring is still around.
    Oh I forgot to mention that my most wonderful mother-in-law was the bridal consultant at the time I married her daughtwe.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such lovely memories of my father and my grandfather, they loved that store and selling an engagement ring to a hopeful young man was my dad’s favorite thing. My sisters and I have lots of stories and memories of that store. On Christmas Eve we would always go to the store at 3ish and my Mom would pack some hors d’oeuvres and wine for the staff. We’d have a little party as the final Christmas shoppers would trickle in. Christmas season was the busiest time and the store always looked so pretty with the decorations. I live in Dallas Texas now and when I meet people from Youngstown , I ask them if they know Brenner’s and those of a certain age always do. It was a different time , when people shopped at local stores, and more specifically you would go to someone you knew and trusted to buy a diamond, and that was my Dad. Thanks for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this story about my Dad’s store. It was a great place and my three sisters and I all learned the value of hard work there from Dad and Grandpa Brenner. My Dad Ray and my Mom MaryAnn loved Youngstown and were both actively involved in numerous community organizations. My sisters Molly, Harriet and Katie and I had an amazing childhood in 1960s, 70s and 80s in magical Youngstown.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My mom, aunt, and grandma worked at McKelvey’s, too. My dad bought my mom’s wedding rings at Brenners in early 1940s. My dad was a WWII Hellcat pilot and they were
    married while in the Navy in Pensacola, Fla. They were happily married almost 70 years. The beautiful diamond ring is on my finger and still is gorgeous!❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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