John Hayes carries on philanthropic tradition at Goodman’s Jewelers

Goodman's Jewelers suffered more than $100,000 worth of damage, and $40,000 in inventory was stolen.
John Hayes sitting on state Street bench
Photo by John Ficenec
John Hayes worked for Bob and Irwin Goodman for 15 years before Hayes bought Goodman’s Jewelers from them in 1998. Now Hayes has a son and daughter working in the jewelry industry.

John Hayes got the call at about 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 30. A friend was contacting the longtime owner of Goodman’s Jewelers on State Street to tell him what she was watching on Facebook Live.

Hayes’ shop was being vandalized.

People in downtown Madison were demonstrating in reaction to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis earlier that week.

Hayes respects the peaceful protesters, but what he saw when he got to his shop that evening was something else.

“It was chaos,” he says.

The store’s windows were shattered, and a man was standing inside behind a damaged display case holding a tray of sterling silver lockets in his hand.

“Put it down,” Hayes said. “You’re stealing from me.”

The man set it aside and ran out. A little later, while Hayes was assessing the damage, someone else walked in, saw Hayes and said, “Is this your shop?”

“Yes, it is,” Hayes said. “Get out.”

The woman stooped, picked up a piece of jewelry that had been dropped by someone else and ran away.

John Hayes in his office

Photo by John Ficenec

All told, the shop suffered more than $100,000 worth of damage, and $40,000 in inventory was stolen. It was a shocking occurrence for a store that was owned for decades by brothers Irwin and Bob Goodman, beloved Madison philanthropists.

Hayes has continued in their footsteps — he and his wife, Cathy, annually pay the entry fee for the first 500 kids on the day the Goodman Pool opens — and that likely had something to do with the community’s positive response to the store in the wake of the looting.

“Tons of community support,” Hayes says. The store reopened in early August. “People stopping in just to say they’re glad we’re open.”

The most extraordinary reaction came from Blaine and Tina Neupert, owners of Don’s Home Furniture, who, with their contacts in the Amish community, were able to arrange repairs on eight antique mahogany and glass display cases — at no expense to Hayes.

“Goodman’s Jewelers has given so much to the community,” Blaine Neupert says. “It’s about time someone gives back to them.”

Hayes, 65, met Bob and Irwin Goodman in 1983, while he was working for Zales in the Milwaukee area. Hayes got into the jewelry business almost by happenstance. He was raised on a farm outside Rochester, Minnesota, and was studying mechanical engineering until an early first marriage and family responsibilities led him to take a job managing a gas station and food mart in Rochester.

He was offered a district manager position, overseeing five stores but for little additional pay, before a friend who was a manager at Zales in Iowa told him about a management trainee position in Rochester.

“I knew nothing about jewelry,” Hayes says, but an interview was arranged.

“I didn’t own a tie or sport jacket,” Hayes says. He borrowed a jacket and bought a tie at Sears.

“Why do you want this job?” the interviewer asked.

John Hayes looking into a jewelry device

Photo by John Ficenec

“I’ve got a job,” Hayes replied. “I want a career.”

He worked for Zales for five years in four different cities, learning about gems and stones and how to sell them. He was working at the Brookfield Zales store in 1983 when an industry friend told him Goodman’s in Madison was looking to hire.

During his interview with Irwin and Bob, Hayes — coming from the corporate environment at Zales — was struck by how the brothers stressed their connection to the Madison community. The store was a success — Madison had been good to them. They made a point of being good to Madison in return.

“That was very appealing,” Hayes says. “To be in one place and put down roots.”

Hired as a salesman, Hayes advanced to sales manager in six months. By 1988, he was general manager, and a decade later, when Irwin and Bob were ready to sell the store, they looked to Hayes.

“It was more of a transition than a transaction,” Hayes says. “Bob and Irwin treated me like family.”

Now Hayes has brought his own family into the business. His son Jeremy is a goldsmith at Goodman’s, and his daughter, Jeni Sullivan, is a gemologist and appraiser. In the Goodman tradition, the customers, too, can begin to feel like family.

“I’m fortunate,” Hayes says, “that I have second- and third-generation customers. It’s really rewarding to be able to tell someone, ‘I sold your parents their ring.’ They come to me with a lot of trust and it’s important to honor that trust and make sure they’re taken care of properly.”

That deep well of goodwill helped during the past tumultuous year, beginning with a COVID-19-induced closure in early spring and then — soon after they were able to reopen — the damage and theft.

“It’s been a bumpy road,” Hayes says, but he’s looking forward to a better 2021.

“I enjoy what I do,” he says. “I’m not in any hurry to retire.”

Doug Moe is a Madison writer and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Read his blog, “Doug Moe’s Madison,” on madisonmagazine.com.