My Visit to Blueground -by Stacy Jethroe
The ninth installment in our series on featured stores and galleries…
There’s something to be said for a place that feels like home. Rochester, NY, is one of those places. Last month I had the pleasure of visiting this lovely city located in upstate New York. Just south of Lake Ontario in the US, it has the third largest population in the state and boasts the title of being one of America’s very first boomtowns. Now home to well known companies like Xerox, Kodak, and Wegmans—a locally grown grocery chain that has become one of my absolute favorite grocers on the East Coast—it also claims creative biggies like Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Eastman School of Music.
The thing that really struck me the most during my visit to Rochester was the strong sense of community and tradition there. Most everyone I met had been born there. Their parents were born there. Some had moved away, yet made their way back again. Mark Nimeh, owner of Blueground, is one of those native sons. A hometown boy, Mark has also called Boston, Washington, DC, and Manhattan home, but it was Rochester he returned to when he was ready to open his business. Established in 2000, Blueground is a jewelry store built upon the very tenets of community and tradition that so impressed me during my time in Rochester: a lot of the customers that frequent the store are natives and their families have always been there. Though he has no formal training in jewelry, Mark grew up in the trade. His father, the elder Mr. Nimeh, never pushed his son into the business, but his influence was felt just the same. Mark learned a lot about the industry just by being around it, and when Mark decided to open Blueground, it was his father who helped him find the location.
Gallery-style in appearance, yet non-traditional in practice, everything seems casual here. That casualness, however, does not apply to how Mark and his staff view their work: “The coolest thing ever is that we appear not to take things seriously, but we are deadly serious about production, maintenance and design.” Laid back, yet professional, especially when it comes to proudly over-the-top service.
“If you are serious and genuine, you can accomplish things; it translates to your clientele.” ~Mark Nimeh
By his own account, Mark has always been a dabbler, a professional student and a traveler with a passion for photography—a love, which has never left him. He takes pleasure in researching topics, and reading photography blogs like this one. Before opening Blueground, Mark had considered becoming an English professor, but realized formal schooling wasn’t where his heart was. Luckily, for customers, it is these same passions and curiosities, as well as a genuine appreciation for all things visual, that reveal themselves in the jewelry available at Blueground.
Blueground: A Day in the Life
I made my visit to Blueground on a rainy Tuesday morning. Located in an unpretentious shopping center in Pittsford—a suburb of Rochester—I discovered the staff to be as unassuming as its storefront. Jessica, one of four Blueground employees, greeted me with a smile and invited me behind the counter. Mark offered me a seat and cup of coffee, and we began talking about the history of the store. As we spoke, I learned that Jessica’s family owns one of the most popular—dare I say famous—Italian restaurants in Rochester: Red Fedele’s Brook House. She and I would talk more on this, with me enjoying an amazing dinner there just a few nights later. I got to see how customers interacted with the Blueground staff—Mark, Rachel, and Jessica on this day—sharing stories of their weekend or how a gift purchased at the store was gleefully received. I had the opportunity to meet a former employee, visiting from out of town, with her dad (it was his birthday and they let me snap a picture). Hearing behind-the-scenes conversation regarding custom design bridal work—a Blueground specialty—I started to get a feel for why people shop here, and why they come back. It is hospitable here, not stuffy. Though not a fine jewelry environment, fine jewelry can be found. I asked Mark what was his favorite thing about Rochester, and he told me this: “I did whatever I could to leave it, then realized how important it was to me—the history in the town. People get it here, regardless of their political views. It’s an economically moderate town to live in and a genuinely rooted community. I enjoy that. I also feel very lucky to make this my work. It dawned on me, one day, that I had done everything I could to avoid my jewelry heritage, but then it evolved and I turned it into my own thing.” This is what a strong sense of community can bring: a loyal customer base that returns time and again to see what’s new and maybe tell their friends about the shop (it seems there is a habit of folks keeping the Blueground address to themselves, with mischievously selfish motivation in mind).
Originally selling only jewelry made in precious metals, Blueground began adding costume and “bridge” jewelry to its repertoire when the market changed. Philippa Roberts jewelry—made using precious metals and being moderately priced—has always fallen right in line with the styles presented here. The store has been carrying her work since 2003, beginning with Philippa’s sterling silver pieces, and then adding vermeil to the collection. “Philippa is incredibly easy to work with. There’s never a ‘no’ from her, and her jewelry is beautiful. Her simple, sterling silver designs remain my favorite.” Like Mark, Philippa has an appreciation for photography and visual presentation—something that shows itself in the gracefulness and character of her designs. Blueground also features jewelry by these designers: Mashka, Catherine Weitzman, Sara Danielle Designs, Rebecca Overmann, and Mark Nimeh.
Delightful, gift-worthy pieces await you at Blueground. Sparkly things—sometimes elegant, sometimes quirky—to keep for yours alone. You won’t feel pressured here, even when perusing the high-end pieces. Bridal jewelry is something this store does right: beautifully designed and custom-made. Visit Blueground. See the jewelry, of course, and get to know the people who make the store what it is. Perhaps you’ll leave with a happy new secret that you won’t tell your friends about.
Blueground Jewelry 3349 Monroe Ave Rochester, NY 14618 (585) 249-9040
Blueground gives back to its community through monthly donations to several local children’s organizations
Guest writer Stacy Jethroe is part of the Philippa Roberts Shop & Studio ‘family’–she writes for, sells for, and wears an excessive amount of Philippa Roberts Jewelry.