By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
For several decades, Collins Diamonds has been a fixture in Liberal’s downtown scene.
Along with a partner, Audie Bartel purchased the store from original owner Paul Collins in 1981, and in February 2012, Bartel and his wife, Karla, handed control of the store over to their son, Colton, and his wife, Morgan.
It was at that same time that the elder Bartels opened another jewelry store, this time in the south Texas town of Corpus Christi.
Audie said the differences in climate between Liberal and south Texas played a big factor in that decision.
“Cold weather there is something under 50 degrees,” he said. “We’re three blocks away from the bank. We’ve got palm trees out the front door of the store.”
Karla said financial resources also impacted the choice to move south for she and Audie.
“There’s billions in money in the oilfield,” she said of the Corpus Christi area.
Soon, Colton and Morgan will follow in the elder Bartels’ footsteps by moving to Corpus Christi, and the store that has been a part of Liberal for so long will close.
About a year ago, Morgan gave birth to a son, London, who was born with a condition known as medium chain acyl-CoA dehygoenase deficiency, which means London cannot store energy from food he consumes.
Colton said that situation played a little bit into the decision for he and Morgan to move to south Texas.
“There’s a children’s hospital only a few blocks from the store, and with London having the disorder he’s got, that makes it a little bit handier for us to be down there too,” he said. “The climate will help him. They’ve got a really good genetics team in Houston, so it’s not too far away. There’s a lot of benefits for us personally.”
Before Collins Diamonds can be closed, however, the Bartel family must sale the merchandise in the store and later the building that houses the business.
Naturally, Colton said the decision to close the store was not an easy one.
“We’ve got so many customers I grew up knowing,” he said. “There’s some that have known me since I was born. Closing this store and moving away from families that we’ve grown up with and an area that I’ve lived my whole life in and going to a whole new state and city and not knowing anybody or anything there, it’s kind of scary, but at the same time, it’s kind of exciting.”
Colton said for him, one of the big things he will miss is the interaction with Collins’ customers.
“A lot of times, the customers were so close that a lot of them were considered family or really good friends,” he said. “It wasn’t just business here. It was go out and eat lunch with them or dinner or events together. It’s a lot closer than just a business relationship with a lot of people.”
Audie agreed, saying the store had many frequent customers.
“There’s a lot of people that call on the phone and recognize their voice,” he said.
The Bartels have been involved with more than just their own business during their time in Liberal.
“We were pretty involved with the chamber of commerce,” Audie said. “I was on the economic development for a while.”
Colton said the decision to close Collins was not just about business.
“It was a personal and emotional decision too,” he said.
Karla said for all of the Bartels, moving to Corpus Christi is kind of scary.
“It’s picking up and moving to a place we’ve never before and starting over,” she said.
Morgan posted a statement on her Facebook page last Saturday, and in addition to closing the store, she said closing the social media accounts she created has likewise been tough.
“I first started working here in sales, then by my own stubborn nature created a job that seemed far fetched at the time,” she said. “Thanks to working here, I have not only established a career for myself, but it has also led to so many wonderful things.”
Since the announcement, Karla said there hasn’t been much time for reactions. She added today begins a three days of sales by invitation only, and Monday, the closing sale will be open to the public.
Audie said the people of the local area, he believes, are hard working and honest, and Collins has done its best to provide good customer service.
“We try to treat them like we’d like to be treated,” he said.
Morgan said she owes a lot to the store she is now saying goodbye to.
“It has been a part of my life since I was itty bitty,” she said. “I want to say a special thanks to Audie and Karla for not only letting me force my ideas on them but for encouraging me to bring them to fruition.”
Morgan also gave a big thanks to her husband.
“It’s not easy at times working with your spouse,” she said. “He has been so gracious and understanding through the years. I am extremely lucky to be a part of this family.”