Burkett’s celebrates 70 years

Published 4:39 pm Saturday, April 29, 2017

NEDERLAND — There was lot of celebrating and reminiscing at Burkett’s Emporium as new and longtime customers came in to help mark the businesses 70th anniversary and make purchases on Saturday.

A lot has changed but a lot has stayed the same at the family owned jewelry, gift shop and more.

A scrapbook and other memorabilia showing the history of Burkett’s Emporium.
Mary Meaux/The News

Kathleen Burkett, 92, remains spry with a keen memory and an ability to anticipate what customers want. She, and longtime customer Freddie Boyd Soileau, was deep in conversation inside the spacious store with Burkett recalling specific pieces of jewelry she had sold to the woman years ago. Soileau began to think back to when she first became a customer.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“I was married in 1957,” Soileau said. “But I was still buying from her (Burkett) before that when I was single.”

A quick look back and the two women were looking over rings and ended with Soileau making another Burkett’s purchase.

Kathleen and Elwood Burkett were originally from North Louisiana and Elwood had learned to tinker with watches and jewelry from an uncle. The uncle was unable to afford to pay another jeweler so the Burketts came to Texas.

“My sister and her husband lived in Beaumont and he worked in Port Neches. He told Elwood that Port Neches needed a jeweler and a jewelry store,” Kathleen Burkett said.

Kathleen Burkett, left, and granddaughter Holly O’Neal May pose for a photo on the 70th anniversary of Burkett’s Emporium at the Nederland business on Saturday.
Mary Meaux/The News

The early years were lean, as she called them, but the couple made it work. They spent two years in a small, square building in Port Neches before moving the business, named Burkett’s Jewelry Shop, across the street “between the bank and the Post Office.”

Lynn “Era” Smith remembers some of the early days.

“I worked there beginning at age 15 for three years while in high school,” Smith said.

Kathy Newman also had fond memories of the business and its customer care.

“In 1985 my son (Dariel Newman) was buying a ring for his future wife. They both were working and going to school so they couldn’t find time to shop for a ring,” Newman said. “She (Kathleen Burkett) said ‘don’t worry’ and opened the store so they could pick a ring. They put it on layaway for $45 down.”

The 70-year-old ledger from the first days of Burkett’s Emporium, then called, Burkett’s Jewelry Shop.
Mary Meaux/The News

The business moved from Port Neches to its current location in the Plaza Shopping Center, 1517 S. U.S. 69, in Nederland in 1992. At that time there was not much development in that area — the only thing across the highway was Sutherlands.

Kathleen and Elwood’s daughter, Donita Burkett O’Neal was the second generation to run the business.

“My mom really had a knack for knowing if something would be real big,” Holly O’Neal May, who now manages the store, said. Sadly, Donita O’Neal passed away in 2006 and her husband John in 2011.

It was actually Donita O’Neal who, during a slump in the jewelry business, changed the name to Burkett’s Emporium to better shed light on all the store offers — jewelry, fine gifts and giftware, religious items and much more.

May, a marketing major of Auburn University and Gemological Institute of America graduate and certified gemologist, is the third generation to work in the family business. Her daughter, age 10, has expressed interest and may very well be the fourth generation to run the family business.

Reporter: Mary Meaux, 409-721-2429

Twitter: @MaryMeauxPANews

A display of gift items inside Burkett’s.
Mary Meaux/The News

Some of the many pieces of jewelry inside Burkett’s.
Mary Meaux/The News

A display of gift items inside Burkett’s.
Mary Meaux/The News