A Downtown Institution Will Carry On In a New Home

August 11, 2021 Written by Melissa Fields

Inside Main Street’s intimate McKay Diamonds jewelry store the walls are filled with hundreds of photos of couples, taken as they picked out their engagement or wedding rings. Store founder, Robert McKay, began taking couples' photos when he opened his eponymous store in 1949; a tradition that, along with McKay’s reputation for personalized service, is continued today by Joe and Sandra Andrade, owners of the landmark store since McKay retired in 2010.

This fall, McKay Diamonds’ next chapter will get underway when the Andrades move the store around the corner to 115 Regent Street. There, the classic light bulb and neon McKay Diamonds sign will live on, along with many of the endearing photos from the store’s original location. And there, the Andrades will build upon the time-honored McKay reputation, perhaps imbuing a bit more of their personal American Dream story. The Andrades journey into the jewelry business began in Brazil, the couples’ home country. Born into a family with 16 brothers and sisters, Joe began working at age 7 delivering flowers to help make ends meet. “When I look at my grandkids, I can’t imagine them starting in business the way I did, but for me, it was just a normal life,” Joe says. When the flower shop closed two years later, he approached a nearby jewelry store about a job. There, at just nine years old, Joe began his career as a watchmaker. He went on to complete an apprenticeship, developing skills in jewelry carving and setting and opened his first jewelry store at age 17.
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Joe and Sandra met and married a few years later and then in 1999, emigrated together to Salt Lake City. In Utah, Joe’s career veered in a way typical of many immigrants. To support his young family, he—often with the help of Sandra—worked various jobs in construction and as a janitor. Through lots of hard work and saving, he and Sandra did eventually open a jewelry store in Taylorsville, where Joe was the jeweler and Sandra, tapping into her experience as a bank teller in Brazil, handled the finances. But then around 2003, he met and struck a deal with Robert McKay. “Bob’s kids were not interested in continuing McKay Diamonds and so he and I worked out a deal: I worked for him until he retired, at which time he’s sold me his business, and then Sandra and I would close our Taylorville store and focus on McKay Diamonds,” Joe says. Now, most of the dazzling rings, necklaces, earrings and more found within the cases at McKay Diamonds are handmade by Joe, who also specializes in custom-designed pieces.

In an age where many people turn to the Internet to find jewelry—diamonds in particular—the Andrades pride themselves in personally guiding couples through what’s likely one of their most significant purchases. “Talking to the jeweler and being a part of the design process is an important part of creating the memories surrounding a diamond,” Sandra says. Resetting or creating an altogether new design for an heirloom diamond is another important part of the Andrades offerings at McKay Diamonds. “It’s not uncommon for us to create a new design for a third or fourth generation diamond,” Joe says. The expansion of Eva’s Bakery next door precipitated the Andrades’ difficult decision to move McKay Diamonds from where it’s resided for more than 70 years. And though they entertained multiple locations throughout the valley, they ultimately settled on staying downtown. “This little store is part of the downtown community,” Joe says. “We love the diversity of downtown and our customers come from all over the country and we want to make it easy for them to find us.” The Andrades are planning a simultaneous closing of McKay Diamonds on Main and its reopening on Regent Street at the beginning of October.
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As has been the tradition at its original Main Street location, visitors to McKay Diamonds new store will be greeted from behind the display cases by Sandra, will be able to watch Joe crafting jewelry at his workbench and may even catch a glimpse of the couples’ daughter, Kimberly, who works in her parents’ store while attending the University of Utah. And, of course, there will be the photos, which on closer inspection, reveal the rich and ever-evolving nature of downtown Salt Lake City.