Near the Rialto Theatre on Parc Avenue, the curlicued white lettering of an old sign reads, "Bijouterie Rothschild, Horlogerie, Objets d'Art." From the outside, the narrow store appears dim and quiet, almost abandoned.
But inside, Moïse Rothschild is busy serving a steady stream of customers. People come in to browse for rings, get a watch, a chain, or an earring repaired, or to find out if a piece of old jewelry is actually gold.
Rothschild wears a jeweler's magnifying visor over his silver curls, a dark jacket, and a copper-gold ring set with a bright green oval of malachite from his native Iran. He gives his age simply as "over 70," and says he'll keep working at the store as long as he has the energy.
"I've known Moïse for twenty years!" grinned one woman. Many of his customers have been coming to him, "the man on Parc Avenue," for decades.
"There's a difference between someone who's just interested in business and someone who's studied humanities, who has a human point of view and who won't let clients leave without a smile," reasoned Rothschild who has PhD in comparative literature.
He brought his family to Montreal after the Iranian revolution in 1979 and took over the jewelry store in 1980, running it part-time while he worked as a French teacher and principal at a Hasidic school. Rothschild sends out most of the repairs, saying it's his vocation to find the best workmanship for his clients.
These days Rothschild opens the store from around 1 p.m. until early evening. He runs his business on terms some people may consider eccentric.
"Sometimes I refuse to sell to people who buy a lot of things from me," he said. "If they're buying on impulse, they might regret it.
"You have to be a psychologist," he continued. "If somebody comes in to change a battery and watch band and I feel they're not able to pay much, I ask very little. I don't lose money, because the same person comes back and brings other customers. And some people give tips."
A father and a little girl in search of a gift for Mom, examined the rings and earrings in one of the cracked display cases. After a lengthy deliberation they chose a vintage amber pendant and to the girl's delight, Rothschild threw in a bracelet for her. It was stainless steel filigree set with tiny bits of coloured glass.
"I've never seen a business person like you," remarked Ginette Gauron, a long-time client and friend. She has stylish dark hair, black framed glasses and red lipstick. Her most recent Rothschild purchase was a diamond, but today she came in just to chat.
"He feels sorry for people," she said. "He's not a person, he's a soul. When he's gone we'll have to put up a statue on Parc Avenue."