In early 2003 I attended the MJSA show at the suggestion of my then first metalsmithing instructor. The objective was to find particular tools we needed for class and perhaps some interesting resources for findings. Shortly after arriving I ran into a guy I had met not too long before, Michael Toback, from whom I had bought solder and wire. We strolled the aisles together and happened upon a little non-descript booth, empty except for a small round table, two chairs, and a woman with an ear-to-ear grin: Cindy Edelstein. Like Lucy from the Peanuts who had a minimalist set-up with “The Doctor is In” signage, Cindy was offering advice sessions to passersby – ten minutes for ten bucks – and when Michael stopped to say hello to her, I immediately became the next potential “target” for a little sit-down.
With that warm and welcoming face, and a compliment of the necklace I was wearing (Incidentally, it was hideous, and yes, I made it.), she encouraged me into her booth to talk about my jewelry business. Given the Toback connection, she’d waive the fee. Problem was, I didn’t have a business. I was taking jewelry classes for fun while working another career. I had no intention whatsoever of starting a jewelry business. I was perfectly clear about that from the get-go, yet apparently all she heard out of my mouth was Charlie Brown’s teacher: Whah, whahh, whahhhh. She waxed poetic about showing off my collection (Huh?), meeting with retailers (Why?), and a big annual trade show in Las Vegas that featured a “Design Center” which would be a great opportunity to grow my business (What?!). I’m not sure what part of “I don’t have a business” she didn’t understand. I thought to myself: Either she’s deaf, not too bright, or she seriously likes my ugly necklace. I didn’t get it. Yet she didn’t have any other takers at that time, so we spoke for over an hour about a wide range of subjects, had a few laughs, and when I got up to leave, she grinned and said, “Let me know if I can help in any way. Good luck with your business. “Oy….Sure,” I muttered to myself: I’ll get right on it.
Many months later I ran into Cindy on 47th Street as I was coming out of Toback. She recognized me immediately and excitedly asked how things were going with my business. REALLY?! Are you kidding?! I politely reminded her that I didn’t have one, and she, in turn, smiled and reminded me of the upcoming show in Las Vegas and how I ought to apply to the Design Center. Holy shit, this woman was persistent. This time she insisted that we exchange contact information so that if I had questions…. (like “When will you get off my back, lady?”)
What followed was what I can only describe as a colossal lapse in judgment as I found myself hurrying to put together a group of pieces, getting them photographed, and whipping together a slick presentation/application that allegedly had snippets of indication that I knew something about jewelry, or about business, or both. Go figure. I didn’t think much about the application after submitting it, and when I got a call from Cindy many weeks later to inform me that I had been chosen as one of five JCK Rising Stars for 2004, I thought it was some kind of joke. Cindy was giggling like a 7-year old on the other end of the line and kept repeating, “I knew it! I just KNEW it! HA! You didn’t believe me. You ARE a jewelry designer. And you just started your business.” Uh oh….
In Vegas that year, Cindy walked by my tiny booth many times with that same huge grin. Like a proud mama cheering for her rookie kid at a little league game, she applauded every successful moment she observed, and frankly, she did that for the next 12 years. Unwavering in her support, she believed in me even in moments where I didn’t believe if myself. Over the years we became a Mutual Admiration Society, helping one another talk through our respective business hurdles, offering one another an ear, a shoulder to lean on when necessary, and always, always, comic relief amidst the pressures of running our own businesses. Whenever I felt the anxieties of growing pains, I would tell Cindy that my stress was ALL her fault; that she had gotten me into this mess in the first place. “I know,” she’d say proudly, “and I love every bit of you and your mess.”
Cindy Edelstein died unexpectedly one year ago this month at age 51. The loss to the jewelry industry is colossal, and to me personally — immeasurable. I will continue to “blame” my dear friend Cindy for all things business, and I sure hope she’ll still cheer for me from her place in the stars. The Earth sure is far less colorful and sparkly without her in it.