Douglas Brothers Jewelry: Troy has ‘watched’ them grow

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 4, 2001

Staff Writer

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend and the Douglas family of Troy is mighty fond of them, too. But, as far as "jeweled" best friends go, the Douglas family will stick with a pocket watch – hands down.

This month, Douglas Brothers Jewelry is celebrating 130 years of successful business on the square in Troy. But, had it not been for a pocket watch, this celebration probably would not be.

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Scherr Qualls credits a pocket watch as the foundation of his family jewelry business.

"Like many others in post-war 1871, my great-grandfather, Charles Bryant Douglas, needed a way to make a living," Qualls said. "He and his brothers and sisters were raised on their father’s plantation and had never learned a trade. At the urging of his mother, my great-grandfather moved from Orion to Troy and rented a room and a corner in a store owned by Mr. Henderson."

Douglas set up shop as a watch repairman. He moved in a second-hand table, a chair and a repair bench and sat back to wait for the customers to find him.

He sat and waited and waited and sat, but no one came. He was beginning to get disheartened and very discouraged.

Then, one day

a stranger come to town. He went to the back of the store to do business with Mr. Henderson and glanced over at Douglas on his way out.

"You any good a fixing watches," he asked the young man who responded with "I think so, sir."

The man said he was an engineer with the Alabama – Midland Railroad and his pocket watch was very important to him. It had to be completely accurate or else there could be grave consequences all up and down the tracks.

He had taken the broken watch to jewelers in three large cities and none of them had been able to repair his precious watch.

The engineer told Douglas if he could repair the watch he would spread the word around and see that he got all of the business he could handle.

Douglas took the watch apart and examined every part before putting it back together. He wound the watch but it would not work. He took it apart again and again, each time being even more careful in his examination and cleaning of the parts.

Finally, the day was done and it was time to go home.

"He wrapped the watch in a soft, clean cloth, put it in a box and carried it home with him," Qualls said. "He worried about the watch all through supper. He knew something was wrong but he couldn’t decide what it could be. The watch was too new to be worn out. Before he went to bed, he knelt by the bed and asked God to help with repairing it."

During the night Douglas, tossed and turned, trying to get to sleep. Finally, he drifted off to sleep and had a revealing dream.

"He said it was just as clear as if he were awake," Qualls said. "He saw the watch with a pair of hands holding up the balance wheel. As the light hit the wheel, he heard a voice say, ‘It’s cracked!."

Douglas woke immediately, got up, lit a lamp and examined the watch again with a strong magnifying glass.

"Sure enough, there was a tiny, hairline crack in the balance wheel," Qualls said. "He would never have found it had he not known just where to look."

Douglas repaired the watch and couldn’t hide his feeling of pride when the engineer returned to his corner shop.

"True to his word, the pleased engineer spread the word that Charles Douglas could fix just about anything," Qualls said. "His business grew and prospered and it became a tradition in the Douglas family."

Douglas Jewelry was first located on the east side of the square in Troy and operated there until the turn of the 20th century. At that time it was moved to 79 Court Square and two of Douglas’ sons, Bryant Ivy Douglas and Louis Scheer Douglas, bought him out and the name was changed to Douglas Brothers.

The brothers operated the business until B.I. Douglas’s death in 1938. Scherr Douglas was then left to run the business by himself. In 1939, his son-in-law, Claude A. Qualls, came to help out for a "little while" and stayed for more than 40 years.

At the death of Louis Scheer Douglas in 1968, the store was left to his daughter, Mary Ivy Douglas Qualls and her husband, Claude, who had been made a partner some time earlier.

During the 1970s, the Qualls made two of their sons, Claude Qualls Jr. and Scheer Qualls, part owners in the business.

"As the store grew in the 1970s, we needed more room and moved down the street to 73 North Court Square," Qualls said. "The move was not made without some regrets about leaving the location where the store had been for most of its 80 years. Mother kept a close eye on the movers to make sure nothing happened to any of the antique display cases."

After the deaths of Claude Qualls in 1993 and Mary Ivy and Claude Jr. in 1999, Scheer Douglas Qualls was left to carry on the family business.

Today, Scherr, his wife, Gwen, and daughter, Ivy Qualls Witherington and sisters, Mary Loving and Jane Segars continue the

family tradition where quality service is as dependable as train engineer’s pocket watch.