R. Grey is a cool, small jewelry store.
That will come as little surprise to anyone who wanders into R. Grey Gallery during a First Thursday after spotting a psychedelic glass vase through the window.
And it's what a national magazine for jewelry stores told the BoDo gallery last year.
InStore Magazine gave owners Robert Grey Kaylor and Barbara Kaylor the "coolest small store" title after comparing it with others around the United States.
The award came with a free trip this month to Chicago, where the Kaylors can display their work as VIPs at a three-day trade show.
The gallery was born 27 years ago in a small storefront at 603 Main St. It never would have existed if not for Barbara Kaylor's broken jewelry.
Robert Kaylor, originally from Ohio, was working in custom jewelry design and repair in Boise in the early 1980s when his future wife took a ring and gold chain to him to be fixed.
For three or four years, they would see each other around the city.
Finally, the two had their first date - at the Stagecoach Inn on Chinden Boulevard.
Six weeks later, they were engaged.
R. Grey Gallery opened soon after, becoming a home away from home for the couple, who now have three grown children.
The Kaylors got a bank loan to buy their current space, on 8th Street between Broad and Myrtle streets, almost a decade ago. They finally moved the gallery there almost six years ago, after remodeling the building.
JEWELS, GLASS, FURNITURE
Moving to the new shop gave the Kaylors more space to showcase art furniture and blown glass pieces - including glass jellyfish that range from $350 to $8,000 each - from about 30 artists.
They also sell a "RealSteel" line - rings, earrings and other pieces that Kaylor fashions out of antique railroad spikes and nails.
He came up with the idea in 1999 after finding old steel pieces at antique stores while hunting for materials to make jewelry for a show at the now-closed J. Crist Gallery.
"Our goal for the line is to have it in about 20 galleries across the United States," says Barbara Kaylor. They're about one-fifth of the way there, with the pieces in four galleries, she says.
The RealSteel line is just one of Kaylor's ventures into metalwork. His work is focused on metal, accented with diamonds, colored stones and unique materials like petrified dinosaur bones.
The RealSteel line won Kaylor the Mort Abelson New Designer of the Year award at a jewelry show in New York City in July 2011.
On April 4, the gallery will host an annual show for Boise State University metal arts students. The pieces on display are collaborations among several students, building on each other's interpretations of a theme, such as "nature." The gallery has been hosting the show for nearly a decade. The proceeds benefit Boise State's metal arts department, says Barbara Kaylor.
That show is how Ellen Crosby, who was a student in the class, got to know the Kaylors. She was among the loyal customers and admirers who stopped in during February's First Thursday event. Another was Vicki Stevenson, a metalwork artist originally from Texas, who confessed she'd just given her husband a wish list of items from the store.
Two other women at the gallery that night shared a similar story - a testament, they say, to the Kaylors' above-and-beyond customer service.
Lori Backer of Boise lost a cherished anniversary-gift bracelet during a trip to Italy. Her husband, Dave Backer, says R. Grey is his go-to place for romantic gifts, and he'd purchased the bracelet from the gallery.
Instead of just selling her another bracelet, the Kaylors had the artist make an identical bracelet.
Another time, an R. Grey employee spotted a piece of jewelry Backer had dropped in the Boise Co-op parking lot. Barbara Kaylor remembered selling the piece, a bracelet made of nails, to Backer and returned it to her.
Theresa Madrid, a Boise resident, has been a customer for more than a decade. She loves the "wearable art" and the feeling when she walks in that Barbara Kaylor knows her style and will find something she can't resist.
"About 10 years ago I returned home from an outing to discover that I [was] wearing only one earring. Not just any earring - I lost one of my favorite earrings, and I had no idea where," Madrid says in an email. "But I knew I bought it at R. Grey ... . When I took the remaining earring to R. Grey, Barbara took one look at it, knew who the artist was ... gave her a call, and sent my one remaining earring off so the artist could make me a replacement. Within a month or two, R. Grey called me to let me know that I had a matching pair of earrings waiting for me at the store. How amazing is that?"
WHAT'S THEIR SECRET?
The gallery bleeds style from every corner. Even the steps to the main gallery floor have an artist's flair, with warmth pouring out from embedded lights.
But how does a high-end gallery - much less, one that occupies expensive Downtown real estate - make enough money to survive a recession?
The secret: carry items you can't find anywhere else in the Treasure Valley, at a variety of prices, Barbara Kaylor says.
Intricately designed furniture made to order by out-of-state artists using a wood burner, paint and hours of patience are priced in the thousands of dollars.
But the store also sells trinkets, containers, wall hangings, tiny vases and other items that satisfy buyers looking to spend less than $100.
"Having quality merchandise and also having a business that is really staying true to supporting American artists" is the gallery's key to success, Barbara Kaylor says.
Secret No. 2: The gallery has pieces of delicate art, like hand-blown glass ornaments dangling from a steel tree. There could be literally a ton of glass on the shelves. It's a cleaning nightmare, right? One false move with a feather duster and you're out $1,000.
So they don't dust, except the occasional pass over the shelves. They built a ventilation system that "zaps" the dust, Barbara Kaylor says.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448