ALEXnow: Here’s Old Town Jeweler David Martin’s secret to staying in business for 35 years
Alexandria’s David Martin has spent the last 35 years making the city brighter, from creating jewelry at his Old Town shop to convincing city leaders to keep the holiday lights up year-round along King Street.
In 1989, Martin saw Old Town as a sleeping giant, especially on the block where his shop Gold Works USA would be located at 1400 King Street. The King St-Old Town Metro station had opened a few years before, and he sensed that the area would get busier.
“I sat on this doorstep all day on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I knew things were going to change,” Martin told ALXnow. “Everything on the northwest side of Old Town back then was used car shops and empty lots. Now they’re all associations and businesses.”
Up to this point, Martin’s secret to success has been by making himself known to the players in the city, from its politicians to the Chamber of Commerce. An Alexandria Living Legend, he was able to convince then-City Council Member Del Pepper to champion the year-round holiday lights along King Street in Old Town.
“I know all the police chiefs all the way from when I first got into the chamber of commerce,” Martin said. “I knew every police chief or mayor before that, and they all have something I’ve made. (Former Congressman) Jim Moran and (former Mayor) Bill Euille — I gave Bill a three-inch disc with a city seal, and he gives it to (Mayor) Justin (Wilson) to wear at parades every year.”
Martin said that the last few years have been tough, forcing him to adapt.
“When I opened the store I swore to open one that would pay the bills and support me and provide a retirement,” he said. “Between the economy, Covid, the city opening and closing streets, it has been difficult. With customers, every year there’s a new generation of people living here, moving in and out with the military and administrations.”
Nowadays, instead of relying on a steady base of local traffic, he’s been turning his efforts online, as the tastes of his clientele have shifted even more away from in-person purchases.
“The older generation is disappearing and the younger generation is doing most of their shopping on Amazon, Ebay and Etsy,” Martin said. “I’m going bigger online every day, and now I’ve got three people doing my social media.”
Martin was born in 1943 in Chicago, Illinois, to a military family. After high school, he spent three years in the U.S. Air Force, and was trained as a clinical lab technologist. After the Air Force, he took a year of pre-med at the University of Miami, but his ambition to be a doctor ended due to his day job of working with a pathologist to identify the remains of U.S. soldiers. This was during the Vietnam War, and Martin said he then reverted to a lifelong obsession of creating with his hands.
Martin apprenticed with the Montgomery College School of Art and Design, and then with D.C.-area jeweler Frank Smith before spending years as a jeweler with Fleisher Jewelers of Virginia. He also sold his own jewelry from booths at festivals in Alexandria for five years before opening Gold Works.
Martin said that the most important business meeting of his life happened at a mixer with the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce.
“I had lunch and was sitting between banker, a Virginia State Delegate and a Virginia Senator and I said I wanted to open a jewelry shop,” Martin recalled. “The banker asked if I owed my condo, and she said she could get me a $50,000 home equity loan and the senator said he knew just the place I could open a shop in Old Town.”
Martin said that his customers are like him.
“It’s a cross section of people who are agreeable, friendly and spiritual,” he said. “They’re like me.”