Time and time again, Kerry Ruiz, owner of is asked, "What's so distinct about your shop?"
From a business perspective, Ashley's works to break from the mold of the local jewelry retailer, and the shop has become known for its custom, one-of-a-kind pieces. From the moment you walk through the store's front door and past a tree of handmade, free-trade gift cards imported from Africa, its clear Ruiz is not in business with the sole motive of turning a profit.
Before he set up shop on Day Hill Road nearly 23 years ago, Ruiz was a road salesman of wholesale jewelry. It was during his time on the road, talk "to old-timers" who had their share of stories to share with him, that he was told, "If you open a business, you need to give back to the communities that keep you alive."
"And that's basically what I did," says Ruiz, who took the advice to heart and never looked back.
Since his first full year in business in 1990, scarce have been the fundraisers without Ashley's as a sponsor. Ruiz has made it a point to support local organizations and businesses financially, and with his time. Over the years, he's served as president of the Chamber of Commerce, board member of the Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the Shad Fest Bureau and more.
Windsor Patch recently sat down with Ruiz to talk about his contributions, which have helped make Windsor the town it is today:
Windsor Patch: When you started the business, giving back to the community was something you wanted to do. Can you tell me a little about where that came from?
Kerry Ruiz: We tried to do a lot of things for groups that we thought were pretty important to town. And then we started concentrating on stuff that was orientated towards children, trying to make their lives a little bit better. Unfortunately, we all are a little too fast these days. But we try to keep [involved in] the sports end of it, getting into robotics. We do stuff through the schools, and other things we think are important. We sponsor SummerWind, do some stuff with the Historical Society, the Art Center. We live in town, so it's not just business. It's our community, our friends, our families. We try to stay out there, and it's just fun. If I had to put it in a nutshell, it's just fun. I'm a big kid and I get to do it.
WP: Are there foundations or local organizations that you hold near and dear to your heart?
KR: Numerous. I'm on the board of directors of a non-profit that's called Sue's Classic. It's a dear friend who passed away, Sue Burns. Her family got together and we started a foundation. We actually look for kids who are fighting cancer, and we have a golf tournament every year, and we donate the funds to cutting their medical bills down. That's one big one that we stay pretty involved in. The Historical Society, the Art Center; both of those are very important in town. SummerWind — I just think it's a sleeping giant up there. We love going out and sitting on the lawn. I just look and go, "You know, you have to go Tanglewood to do something like this, or Simsbury." Here we've go it in the back yard.
WP: You're very involved with the Shad Derby. Can you talk about your sponsorship and involvement?
KR: We've been a sponsor since 1990, our first full year in business. I just think it's phenomenal. I think anybody that has issues today… You always hear "The school systems aren't the greatest," so we're always fighting with people [by] saying, "You get out what you put in." I think the Shad Derby is a great example. Listen to the young ladies and they just blow you away. Their speeches, they're positive images. The things they do in the community.
WP: There are countless causes and organizations you could support nationally or internationally — you sell handmade, free trade gift cards from Africa here in the shop, for example. But as far as giving back locally is concerned, why is it so important to you to invest in Windsor?
KR: It all comes back, I mean, if you don't create a good community, then it starts decaying. We've got organizations like First Town Downtown, we try to do a lot with First Town Downtown. We're not in [Windsor] Center, but if all those businesses go out, we don't have places to eat, we don't have places to go. So it's important. You'll see us up in Wilson at the restaurants up there… I said back in the day when I was president of the Chamber [of Commerce], "We go from the Windsor Locks to the Hartford border, from Granby to the River. And that's Windsor, and it's all important."