ROGERS -- As a teenager, Rick White got his start in the jewelry business at Walmart, "when Mr. Sam used to come in and the sign said Walmart Discount City."
White worked in the jewelry department of a few of the stores, including the first Walmart on Walnut Street, before deciding to open a store of his own.
In 1976, he opened his first jewelry store in Fayetteville at the Evelyn Hills shopping center. He eventually would own 13 stores across the state, he said.
After selling his stores and working for Walmart for another few years, he bought space in downtown Rogers in the 1980s.
"I was the first building that was remodeled. I bought the building from Mr. Spivey, Rex Spivey, and I think he let me buy it because he knew what I was going to do with it," he said.
After decades of business, White's & Co. Jewelry now plans to close permanently. The jewelry store at 115 W. Walnut St. is selling the store's inventory. No closing date has been set.
White said he and his employees at the store -- including Bud Duncan and Glenda Rice, who both used to have stores of their own in Benton County -- are retiring. He plans to relax and try to enjoy life working on his farm, he said.
"He's probably earned that. We hate to see him and his store go," said Raymond Burns, chief executive officer and president of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. "He's been a real asset to downtown. He's not only added to the variety of what's there, but he's been a good supporter of the downtown area."
Relationships with customers have been a highlight of owning and running the business, White said.
"We have so many great customers. In the last two weeks, we've probably seen 6,000 people through these doors," he said. "We have a lot of customers who are good friends, too."
In addition to jewelry, unique historical artifacts have cycled through the store over the years, occasionally attracting local school groups, according to White.
"We are a jewelry store, we sell preowned Rolexes and other jewelry, but we've also had a lot of valuable collectibles. It's not a normal jewelry store," he said.
The store recently sold a painting by Freeman Thorpe, who created portraits of notable figures such as presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Garfield and Ulysses Grant. Other items have included a Chicago Tribune reporter's autograph book, which had signatures from Robert E. Lee and Joseph Pulitzer, among others; a handwritten letter by Samuel Smith, songwriter of "America (My Country, 'Tis of Thee)"; and the first Phillips 66 neon sign made.
White said he saw an increase in business during the pandemic, rather than a decrease, a fact he attributes to his customers and "my Lord Jesus Christ."
The downtown area has a history of family-owned jewelry stores, according to Burns. Others such as Rice Jewelers have closed down over the years. Golden's Designer Jewelry at 206 W. Walnut St. shut its doors in December. Al McCarty Jewelers, which moved into town in 1979, is still open at 1041 W. Walnut St.
White would like to see the tradition continue with another jewelry store taking his place downtown, he said.
The area has changed significantly since opening on Walnut Street several decades ago, he said.
"Downtown Rogers has become a destination. There's some great stores down here."