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Golden year has a nice ring to it

Exactly a month ago today, Bob and Frances McKay opened the door at their jewelry store on Salt Lake City's Main Street, turned on the lights, and rang in their 50th year.

Not much has changed since the day they first opened -- other than Truman is no longer president.Longevity? Stick-to-it-iveness? Hanging in there?

Understatements.

McKay Jewelry has lasted 50 years . . . on Main Street!

It has survived the coming of the malls, three Main Street beautifications, several burglaries, an armed assault, a $50,000 heist when the store was "between insurance," AND the gold boom of the '80s when a $20 watch became a $200 watch overnight.

All from a store that measures seven feet by 40 feet, including the counter.

Bob and Fran haven't seen it all, but they have seen the city dig up the street car tracks and now they're watching them put in the light rail tracks. In the very same spot.

The only thing they can't believe is that it's happened so fast.

Just the other day, they'd swear people were walking past their store at 157 S. Main in gloves, scarves, hats and their sharpest clothes on the way to ZCMI up the street.

Now, everyone's wearing one-size-fits-all clothes and heading for the mall.

Luckily for McKay Jewelry, one thing that hasn't changed is marriage. People still get engaged, have weddings, exchange McKay diamond rings.

It also hasn't hurt that McKay is a popular name. Bob's father was David O. McKay, one of the most beloved leaders of the LDS Church, his name synonymous with marriage and family, as is Bob's.

Still, you can't just have a name and make it. Stay in business 50 straight years on the same street in a shop no bigger than an English phone booth and you've got to have sound business strategy.

Bob reveals theirs.

No payroll.

"Payroll kills businesses," he says, and he's not kidding. McKay Jewelry doesn't have a payroll because it doesn't have any employees. Just owners, Bob and Fran, and they don't get paid, they just keep whatever's left over at the end of the month.

I know what you're thinking. What about time off? What about sick leave and vacation? How can you run a business year-round and get any time away?

Well, you can't.

In 50 years, Bob and Fran have gone on exactly one vacation. That was in 1976 when their daughter, Suzanne, was entered as Miss Utah in the Miss America Pageant.

They put the CLOSED sign in the door and took the whole family to Atlantic City for 10 days.

Other than that, you have to go back to their honeymoon in Canada in 1946 to find them away from the store longer than a long weekend.

If they're slave-drivers, they are the most cheerful slave-drivers you'll ever see.

Walk in their shop and just try to get a bad reception. If Bob doesn't smile at you, Frances will. Buy an engagement diamond and they'll take your picture, frame it and hang it behind the counter.

"I think we're compatible," says Bob.

A lot of people might think 50 years is plenty, but not the McKays. Observing the golden anniversary at their diamond store last month was great -- it had a nice ring to it -- but they just see it as the start of the second half.

They'll just keep on opening the door every morning on Main and see what happens.

"Maybe we'll see if can outlast the light rail," says Bob. Do not bet against it. The McKays are not the retiring type.

Send e-mail to benson@desnews.com, fax 801-237-2527. Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.