Anna Marie, left, Pat and John
Armbruster continue a tradition of service and
involvement in the community that has made
Armbruster Jewelers a mainstay in downtown Cedarburg
for 130 years.Anna Marie represents the fifth
generation of the family to be involved in the
Photo by Mark Justesen
In 1884, the standard eight-hour workday was
established, construction of the Statue of Liberty
began, Mark TwAin wrote, “The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn” and future first lady Eleanor Roosevelt was born.
During that busy, bustling year, a local merchant named
John Armbruster Sr. set up a shop in the heart of
Cedarburg’s shopping district. It was aptly named
Armbruster Jewelers. One of its signature displays, a
long, monumental clock outside the shop, was installed.
rest, as they say, is history.
Armbruster Jewelers has been celebrating its 130th year
in operation as 2014 winds down. As with the world
around it, the business has evolved over time. But in
many ways it has stayed the same as well.
aspect that has been a constant: Armbruster Jewelers has
always been located in Cedarburg’s downtown. The store
began operations a few buildings north, where the Stilt
House Gastro Bar is currently housed. The second move
followed a few years later in a building that has since
Armbruster Jewelers has operated out of its existing
space for 106 of its 130 years. The store layout, as
evidenced by then-and-now photographs, is virtually
“People have long thought of us for our quality
merchandise, and they have trusted us,” said John
Armbruster, a fourth-generation family member currently
operating the venerable retailer alongside his wife,
Patricia. Their daughter, Anna Marie, has also been
working in the store, representing a fifth-generation
asked why he believes Armbruster Jewelers has withstood
the test of time, John Armbruster quickly rattles off a
number of reasons, starting with the business’ firm
commitment to the community.
A window display on Washington
Avenue celebrates the 130th anniversary.
Photo by Mark Justesen
“We live in Cedarburg, and we’re active in Cedarburg,”
said Armbruster, who began working at the store while in
high school in the 1960s. “We’ve been involved in a
number of different fundraisers and other events over
the years. We don’t see ourselves as just a business.
We’re visible in the community.”
the retailer’s commitment to its clientele is another
reason for the longevity, Armbruster asserts.
would say most of it has to do with the trust we’ve
built up; it’s a big part of it,” he said. “That’s an
important thing when you’re talking about jewelry.”
Armbruster’s estimation, about 80 percent of the store’s
customer base lives within a 10-mile radius of the
building. When people move outside the immediate
Cedarburg area, Armbruster said it is not uncommon to
have people make destination trips to the store.
While jewelry has been the cornerstone of Armbruster’s
operations since day one, the store previously sold a
wide swath of other merchandise – a fact prominently
displayed in the front windows of the store throughout
he founded the store, John Armbruster Sr. arrived in
Cedarburg with a background in disparate areas: watch
making and music. In a nod to the latter, Armbruster
Jewelers had long sold musical instruments and
were actually the first RCA dealer in Ozaukee County,”
Armbruster said. “We sold phonographs and other
equipment as the technology evolved.”
Eventually, management decided to rein in on
Armbruster’s product line and focus more heavily on the
jewelry side of operations. By the 1970s, the store no
longer sold instruments and electronics.
addition to its selection of jewelry – including such
lines as Pandora, Alex and Ani and enamel St.
Christopher medals – the Armbruster Jewelers of today
offers a number of related services. Among them: jewelry
and watch repair, appraisals, pearl restringing and
asked about the future of Armbruster Jewelers, the
fourth-generation John Armbruster is optimistic. Over
the years, there have been a number of potential threats
that could have eroded the business, including the
opening of Northridge Mall – and its array of chain
jewelers – in the 1970s. Armbruster, of course, outlived
the mega retail development on Milwaukee’s northwest
Today, online shopping through such sites as Amazon and
other click-ready destinations pose potential
“There always seems to be some variable at play,”
Armbruster said. “But we’re still here, and we plan to
be for quite some time.”
W62-N620 Washington Ave., Cedarburg