Harry Stewart soldering a broken necklace chain at his workbench. He provides services like eye glasses repair and gem replacement. (photo by April Rink)
By April Rink
In the back of an ambulance in the late 1950s, a 15-year-old boy continuously pressed on the chest of an unresponsive infant as the infant’s father sobbed next to him. This father’s worst nightmare was first aid training for the Boy Scouts back then.
Sixty years later, Harry Stewart, 75, of Manlius, tells that story and several similar scenes in vivid detail, as tears build up and his voice cracks. His experience in the medical field taught him valuable life lessons, which he pulls from when interacting with his customers, friends and family at his business, Treasure Hut, a well-known jewelry store and repair shop.
“That guy was my high school principal and his baby didn’t live, either. But you know what, you learn life experiences like that,” Stewart said. “It’s pretty neat to learn things like that.”
Stewart, in business for 40 years, recently moved his shop from DeWitt to his home at 6520 Minoa Bridgeport Road in June after the rent of his previous location kept rising.
Treasure Hut first opened in 1978 at ShoppingTown Mall in DeWitt, where it remained about 20 years. Stewart jumped locations within the mall twice and, rather than do so a third time, Treasure Hut moved to 4461 E. Genesee St., where it remained for another 20 years until its recent move.
His new shop fills less than one-third of his home garage, while the rest stores a friend’s boat and a lapidary workspace. It seems cluttered, but Stewart was forced to auction off quite a bit of his merchandise after the shop’s last move.
Glass cabinets full of the jewelry he has collected outline a small walkway while pearls from his trips to China and necklaces brought from India line the walls. Tucked in the corners are two workbenches for himself and his co-repairman. There’s a separate desk for his mother Caroline Carlini, whom he has employed for about 15 years. She helps with customers and strings beads.
Treasure Hut is a part of Stewart’s identity, as well as his mother’s. The two share a very close relationship. She was the reason Stewart got into “rock-hounding” — what they call their passion for gems. Even at 97 years old, Carlini’s parenting hasn’t ceased. She still scoffs at the fire and ambulance stories from Stewart’s younger days, and Stewart still shields some of those stories from her.
“I was on the top of a fully involved three-story warehouse fire. It was so bad that all the window casings were falling out on to the street,” Stewart said. “I slipped off and I had a pipe pole. That’s a long pole with a hook on the end that you rip the roof off of with. I threw the pipe pole over to stop me from sliding off a three-story building.”
“That’s the first I heard that,” Carlini said.
As a teen, Stewart would often skip school. Not because he was finding trouble, but quite the opposite: he was responding to it. One time, he was at his local ambulance station when he should have been in school, and the station received a call about a heart attack there. He and another fireman responded to the scene, while Stewart was mortified he would get in trouble for skipping class. The other fireman suggested he pop the lens out of his glasses, put an eye patch on, and claim he was on his way to get his eyewear fixed when he saw the fire station received a call.
“That eye patch got me out of [getting in trouble],” he said.
Stewart continued to work in the medical field during his service with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and then to the opposite side as a hospital finance administrator. He was also a volunteer for the Minoa Fire Department until 10 years ago.
Stewart’s father was killed in World War II when Stewart was only an infant. He was raised for most of his childhood by Carlini with the help of her mother and her sister. Though his mother eventually remarried, the one thing Stewart could change about his life is the death of his father. Stewart has no memories of his father and wishes he could have had that fatherly guidance growing up.
In a way, his personal lack of fatherly guidance might be surprising because he does not lack in fatherly guidance for his own children and what he calls his “illegitimate” children. His daughter lives in Washington and his son lives in Schenectady with his family. Though he technically only has two children, there are several others who call him “dad.”
Stewart and Dave Smith, 49, of Central Square, have a running joke that Smith is Stewart’s illegitimate son. The pair met about 30 years ago in Salt City Bassmasters, a local group of anglers looking to improve their skills. Smith said the two would help one another out in an instant, like a father and son would. When Smith’s boat needed repairs, Stewart bought the seats and the carpet. When Stewart needed cataract surgery, Smith drove him.
Stewart and Smith share many memories of fishing, some of which have influenced how Smith treats his own children. Smith recalls when Stewart would blast old country music, like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, on the way to fishing tournaments.
There’s a Christmas card hung up in Stewart’s work bench area that reads “dad” featuring two women. These are the sisters from Jet Drycleaners, which was next door to his shop in DeWitt. April Perry, 37, of Syracuse, has known Stewart for 20 years and she calls him “dad” because of all the fatherly advice he’s given her. Stewart coached her through a time when she really struggled raising her son, who was getting into trouble with the law, Perry said.
While Stewart enjoys fixing broken pieces, he really enjoys the time he spends with his customers and working with his mother. “I have really cool people that come out here. The people who come out here are my favorite customers,” he said.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.