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As New Chamber Chair, Jeweler Hopes to Help Polish a Gem of a City

By Menaka Fernando
Special to The Lookout

June 6 -- At a small desk in the back room of a popular jewelry store in downtown Santa Monica, an accomplished businessman with humble beginnings divulges the secret of his success.

"Be true to yourself and do what's really right. Always think what the other people need or what it takes to make other people happy," says Eddie Guerboian, the owner of Reader's Fine Jeweler's on Wilshire Boulevard.

Or maybe, he says, "just be married to my wife, Evelyn."

The several family pictures scattered on his desk and the ebullience he exudes when he speaks of his loved ones makes it clear that Guerboian is a family man.

With his son working the register, his wife directing the finances, his mother volunteering as the "food-runner" and five generations of Guerboian blood behind it, to say that Reader's is a family-run business is an understatement.

New Chamber Chair Eddie Guerboian with mother; wife Evelyn, and son Avo. (Photos by Menaka Fernando)

And so, when Guerboian took the reins as the new chairman of Santa Monica's Chamber of Commerce last week, he planned to turn in part to the leadership skills he's learned from his family to help him move the city's business community forward.

Like parents who guide their kids by good example, Guerboian plans to lead members of the chamber by exuding passion and positivism every step of the way.

And he hopes to use his small business perspective to help build partnerships and encourage all businesses to participate in the decision-making process of their community.

But Guerboian acknowledges that boosting membership and participation -- two of his key goals -- will require making the chamber relevant to some businesses.

"From talking to some of the members I hear they are asking 'Oh, what the chamber does for me?' and they expect benefits right away," he said.

"But the chamber does so many things that is not tangible… in the long-run, to benefit the members, but the result is not right away," Guerboian said, citing advocacy as an example.

Guerboian plans to talk to these businesses and be "truthful" about the benefits the chamber can provide, mainly as a collective political voice in a city that is widely seen as "anti-business.

"I'm not shy to ask people to do things," he said.

Guerboian's directness may stem from the confidence that comes from success. His rags-to-riches story is a testament to America, he says, calling it "still, the land of opportunity."

As a 17-year-old boy, Guerboian immigrated to the United States from his native country of Armenia in 1968. His father had just died, and he left his mother and siblings to conquer the unknown thousands of miles away.

Guerboian speculated that his father died from the stress incurred when Armenia's Communist government nationalized the country's businesses in 1967, including his father's jewelry store.

In America, the only contact Guerboian had was to an Armenian Orthodox church in New York. There, he was given the choice of staying in Manhattan or coming to California.

The choice was easy, he said: "Who doesn't want to come to California?"

While juggling two jobs, Guerboian took evening classes and got a degree in business from Santa Monica City College. He lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the corner of 4th and Strand streets. It had a folding bed, he recalled.

Within five years, he had brought the rest of the family to Santa Monica. He married his wife Evelyn -- whom he calls the "love of his life" -- 29 years ago and opened the jewelry store in 1977.

Currently, Guerboian lives with his wife, son, two daughters and mother in his Tarzana home.

Over the decades, Guerboian has watched the Santa Monica business community evolve from "good to better." The biggest change, he believes, is that most businesses no longer survive as individuals -- there's more collaboration, and that's a good thing.

Guerboian is passionate about the need to work with the city's developers and lawmakers to solve the specific problems facing Santa Monica’s business community.

The chamber's priority will be to deal with traffic, parking and homelessness, issues that have caused much friction between the chamber and City Council.

Though he glossed over specific proposals to tackle these problems, Guerboain said he feels he is working with the City and not against it and plans to meet soon with City officials. "The future looks bright," he said.

Guerboian's optimism reflects his nature, Evelyn Guerboian said.

"He's always in a very positive mood," she said.

Still, her husband tends to take a lot on his plate, Evelyn said, joking that the family rarely sees Eddie at home.

In addition to owning the jewelry store, Guerboian coaches two basketball teams in an Armenian Youth league and serves on the board of the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Monica, among other activities.

On the rare occasion that Guerboian has free time, he likes to cheer on his favorite basketball team, the Lakers, though he was disappointed with their showing this season.

While excited about the prospects for Santa Monica businesses during his one-year tenure, Guerboian’s enthusiasm is more apparent when speaking about a different prospect.

Recently, Avo informed his father that he would like to take over the family business when he gets older.

"Since I've grown up with it, I've been in the store since the age of five, I feel an obligation," Avo said, and he added, "I like it too."

Guerboian said he considers himself a wealthy man, not because of the money he has in the bank, but because of his family and his community which he treasures.

"Santa Monica is the gem of the community, and like a gem, there are a lot of faces,” the jeweler said. “Santa Monica has a lot of faces and it won't sparkle unless all the faces are polished."

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