Last bastion of a bygone era
Darrah Cooper Jewelers leaves a rich heritage and an inspiring, lustrous legacy in Lake Placid and on Main Street, USA
This past weekend, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise featured the many long-standing businesses in the Tri-Lakes area. It compelled me to reminisce about Main Street in Lake Placid when I was a child, and how it has transformed over the years and multiple generations of my family’s seasonal residence in Lake Placid. It also gave me the idea to pay homage to one store’s heritage, particularly because the many people who come here to visit might not ever know about its history, as well as the legacy it leaves: Darrah Cooper Jewelers.
Like so many prestigious luxury and mainstream brands, Darrah Cooper’s hunter green embellished-with-gold boxes embody the essence of the buried treasures sitting within, and the luxury of the majestic Adirondacks: the rich, untouched greens of the mountains, the pine-scented air, the ambience of an escape into the woods, and the aspirational peak of rarefied luxury. Like the iconic Tiffany blue box and Cartier red one, the Darrah Cooper box presented something tangible and extraordinary that was about to reveal itself. The store’s history is just as extraordinary.
When Roland Cooper was in the seventh grade, his father died, and so he was sent to Philadelphia to work for his aunts, who had a fine silver shop called Darrah and Darrah, named for their surname and Roland’s mother’s maiden name. The two sisters then opened a shop in Palm Beach, and Roland went with them. During the 1930s and 1940s, the stores in Palm Beach would close for the summer months, so Roland would take some of the line to Petoskey, Michigan, and opened a small shop there for the summer. It was also there that he met his wife Gertrude Rigg. They married in 1940.
Roland and Gertie heard about an opening for a shop in the Lake Placid Club in Lake Placid, so they applied and opened it in 1941. Eventually, Roland opened a store on Worth Avenue and several years later at Royal Poinciana Plaza in Palm Beach. It was because of this that my mother had a very special encounter over Easter weekend in 1963. My grandparents Mary and Jim Donovan were best friends with Roland and Gertie, whose store was right next to the famed toy store FAO Schwarz. My mother was visiting the Coopers and her best friend Carol Cooper when Mr. Cooper said to my mother, “Do you know who is next door shopping for his children? The president! Do you want to meet him? I can arrange it.” As my grandfather had just returned from his final trip to Cuba to negotiate with Fidel Castro for the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners (and their families), it was a meeting that was “negotiated” fairly quickly. My mother met with the president by herself (and the Secret Service) for 45 minutes, picking out toys with him for Caroline and John. All because of Roland Cooper!
Gertie Cooper continued to run the store in the Lake Placid Club store after Roland Cooper’s death in 1973 until after the Olympics, and then opened on Main Street. Carol Cooper Burnham and Martha Cooper Briggs ran that store until 1988, when they sold it to Tim and Deb Lennon, who have run the store beautifully for the past 33 years.
Though it was a huge decision to retire, Deb and Tim have decided to move on to new endeavors and close Darrah Cooper on a high note. According to Deb, “Tim and I grew up in this store, from young twenty-somethings into our present selves. We have been blessed in this business with lasting friends and memories of a beautiful career on Main Street, but we are ready to pivot into the next phase: traveling to see our daughters more often, taking a step back from a business that is open weekends and holidays, all year long.”
Longtime Lake Placid resident Ruth Hart said, “It was always a very special big deal to get a gift from Cooper’s.”
Ruth’s daughter Marilyn MacIvor said, “My father bought me a silver pen from Cooper’s, and it’s something I treasure, not just because it came from my father but also because it came from Cooper’s.”
Native Lake Placidian Nicki Politi said, “When Martha and I were young teenagers, we were invited to have dinner in the Club dining room, so I met Martha at the shop where her father brought some stunning bracelets from the cases for us to wear to dinner. I’ll never forget the amazing sapphire bracelet that Mr. Cooper clasped on my wrist — yellow, pink and blue stones valued at $40,000. It was a “small thing” for him to do for his youngest daughter and me, but I’ve never forgotten how special it was.”
Finally, I asked Carol (Cooper) Burnham what the store’s legacy is to Lake Placid’s Main Street and Main Streets across America. “Fine jewelry is its legacy,” she said.
I might add — the fine people behind that fine jewelry, as it is the people behind each and every store on Main Street here and across the country that make each business and each Main Street not just shine, but sparkle. The families Cooper and Lennon are the ideal example of those fine, sparkling people.
I cherish my treasures from this exquisite jewel box of a store — particularly one oil painting, which as a child I thought was my younger brother and I walking in the woods — as well as my recent gifts of a black-eyed-Susan enamel necklace and gold figure skater charm from my sister as my last items from Darrah Cooper. Most of all, though, I treasure the memories and my family’s enduring relationship with the Cooper family, congratulate both the Cooper and Lennon families on keeping this Main Street mainstay sparkling for all of these years, and wish the Lennons well in their next chapter. We may be saying goodbye, but this type of legacy will sparkle for generations to come.
Beth Amorosi lives in New York City and Lake Placid. She is the granddaughter of Cold War attorney James B. Donovan, portrayed by Tom Hanks in the movie “Bridge of Spies,” directed by Steven Spielberg.