It’s a long way from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, to Skagway, Alaska.
But along the journey to Skagway Shawn Kishnani not only found his calling in the jewelry business, he met his wife, Sonia.
"Way back when a lot of cruise ships started re-routing from St. Thomas to Alaska,” said Kishnani. "I thought it would be a good idea to go up there. So I went with a company that had a store in St. Thomas and I opened a store in Skagway. That’s where I met my to-be wife.”
"We met and we both liked Alaska and each other and after a while we decided to open our own jewelry store, and of course we picked Skagway. We both just liked the town.”
But when they created Aurora Jewelers in 2014, they didn’t just want to open a jewelry store. They wanted to offer an intimate atmosphere where customers could shop for ammolite, a rare fossil gemstone "that has all the colors of the rainbow,” Kishnani says, as well as tanzanite, diamonds and other stones that would make their trip to Skagway more memorable.
The store also offers a selection of Alaskan jewelry, including gold quartz and gold nuggets as well as sapphires, emeralds and rubies all set in beautiful rings, bracelets and necklaces.
Aurora Jewelers is located at 300 Broadway St., "right opposite the ‘Sweet Tooth Cafe’ on Third and Broadway, right next to the ‘Bonanza Bar and Grille,’” and opening the store meant he and Sonia had a philosophical discussion on how to run it.
"It’s something my wife and I discussed, and we both wanted to create a nice experience,” he said. "We both felt the challenges of, how do I put this, larger stores, and we wanted to create a nicer experience for our customers.”
As a result, Kishnani developed a no-commission sales system where customers feel no pressure to buy but can enjoy browsing natural gold nugget rings, ammolite earrings and diamonds from the "Forever Brilliant” collection.
"We just wanted to make people happy and let them have a good experience,” Kishnani said. "People can browse — absolutely!
"We wanted to make it a comfortable experience to shop in our store.”
Kishnani said he prides himself especially in the service after the sale of jewelry. No one can guarantee that something won’t go wrong with a piece of jewelry, he said, but you don’t have to worry if you’ve made a purchase from Aurora Jewelers.
"You can always reach us,” he said. "Normally it’s me answering the phone. We will always fix and service our jewelry.”
Kishnani likes to make friends with his customers, and he said some have become like family. That’s what has made his journey into the jewelry business a rewarding one. Asked if he’s had any memorable customers, he maintains that they’re all memorable.
"What we love about what we do is having customers tell us how happy they are with their purchase,” he said. "A lot of jewelry is purchased for a special occasion or it has meaning for someone at a certain point in their lives, a birthday, an anniversary, an engagement — even buying something so they can have a special memory of their trip to Skagway."
Shawn and Sonia Kishnani with customers in Aurora Jewelers, Skagway, Alaska
"This is a business, of course, but it’s a good feeling when you have a happy customer who is enjoying their purchase. People sometimes write to us and they’re really happy. That makes it worthwhile to us.”
Kishnani, whose hobbies away from the store include working out and reading, reading a lot of fantasy science fiction, history and biographies, said he and Sonia love Skagway because they have never been "city mice,” and they like the pace of the place.
They plan to stay in Skagway all year in the future but haven’t so far because revenue from the store is lacking in the winter, but he hopes someday to call himself a year-round resident.
"Alaska is simple, it’s a great place to be,” he said. "Skagway may not have all the amenities of a big city, but when you live here you realize you don’t need those things. You feel one with nature. Skagway is a very tight community, and you want to be close to your friends.”