Okes Jewelers closes after nearly 70 years of business in Casper

Mark Okes, center, talks with a customer’s baby while employee Tracy Kilwein fills out a recipt on Wednesday morning at Okes Jewelers in downtown Casper. Kilwein will relaunch the business with a new name in the same location in Janurary. Mark Okes is retiring from the business, which his dad Ken started in 1951. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

The display cases are nearly empty in Okes Jewelers on Second and Wolcott Streets in downtown Casper.

After several weeks of liquidation sales, it’s almost time for Mark Okes to end the nearly seven-decade run of the business his dad started in 1951.

His dad, Ken Okes, went to watchmaking school on the GI Bill and opened up a small watch repair shop in a strip mall located on CY and Poplar. An Albertson’s now occupies that spot.

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“When he started out he could do three watches a day…take them apart, repair and time them…and he got $1.80 a piece,” said Mark.

Mark says his mother’s job at the old Gladstone Hotel sustained the family in the early days. “She had a good job and he had a not-so-good job,” said Mark.

Looking for more revenue, Ken started selling costume jewelry and eventually became a full service high quality jeweler. The business grew to a total of three stores in Casper at one time.

Mark bought the stores from his dad in 1996. Ken retired, but still frequently asked about the business until his death in 2014.

A newspaper ad from Oct. 1969, shows the “Give your bunnie a carat” tag Okes Jewelers used for decades.

Mark will have the opportunity to watch his family business continue, at least in spirit.

While Mark will take the Okes name with him in retirement, the business was sold to veteran Okes employee Tracy Kilwein.

Tracy, who started working at Okes 25-years ago, will reopen the store in the same location under a new soon-to-be-announced name and with new stock by the end of January.

“It’s only the third job I’ve ever had in my life,” said Tracy, who was hired by Ken. “That’s one thing about this job, I’ve never not wanted to come to work.”

Tracy will soon start ordering the pieces she’ll want to sell in Casper. “That’s the benefit of being a locally-owned jeweler, you get pick what you want to put in your store…the fun new stuff and the high quality,” said Tracy.

“It makes it a lot easier for me to leave,” said Mark. “It’s not going to have the same name, but it’ll still go forward.”

“We still have customers that started out in the old original store,” said Mark, many of whom have come recently in to say goodbye. “We just have a wonderfully loyal following.”

“It makes me feel good that they’ll continue to come back,” adds Tracy. “I’m now helping their grandchildren…I’m getting a third generation of their family.”

Mark says he’ll travel, golf, fish, and mostly spend more time with his grandchildren after leaving the business. Like his dad before him, Mark might pop in now and then just to see how things are going.

Okes Jewelers has been a Casper institution since 1951. Owner Mark Okes has sold the business and will take his name into retirement. It will reopen under a new name and owner in the same location by late Janurary. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)