Marie Burns didn’t set out to be a business owner, but she still owned and operated a jewelry and gift store called the Jewel Box inside the Davenport Hotel for 33 years.
This weekend some of her descendants, including all her living grandchildren, gathered in the Presidential Suite at the Davenport Hotel to honor her memory.
Marie Burns once lived a posh life. The wife of a railroad contractor, she had a mansion with servants and a chauffeur. But after her husband died unexpectedly she was forced to sell off her fancy house and opened her store in 1923 as a way to support her children.
Frank Brown is one of Burns’ grandchildren. His mother worked with Burns in the store for a while before she married and moved to Georgia.
“She remembered running around the store as a child,” Brown said.
Brown always told his wife Terry that one day he would go back and see where his grandmother struggled and made it.
“My dream was always to come back to the Davenport Hotel and stay in the Presidential Suite where my grandmother had the Jewel Box,” he said.
After college, Brown got into the jewelry business and now owns two large stores in Georgia. He’d heard the stories about his grandmother, of course, but hadn’t paid much attention to them as a boy.
“Once in the business, the lore took effect,” he said. “It was so cool that my grandmother owned a jewelry store named the Jewel Box.”
Now a huge painting of Marie Burns hangs in one of his stores. In another is a small display of original bricks from the Davenport that the family obtained nearly a decade ago.
The family is working with the Davenport to create a small historical display in the hotel honoring Marie Burns. It will include an original jewelry box from her store, an invitation to the store’s grand opening and a picture of her.
“The hotel has been so nice,” Brown said.
The family has been unable to find any pictures of the store and wasn’t even sure of its exact location inside the hotel. But when they checked in, the family met doorman John Reed, who is in his 80’s.
“He started at the Davenport when he was 13, he said,” said Terry Brown. “He still works three days a week.”
Reed remembered the Jewel Box and was able to point out where it used to be on the south side of the hotel, where the Palm Court Grill is now.
“It’s been very moving for my husband, I have to say, very emotional,” said Terry Brown.
The family took a group photo at the site of the old store and have been exploring the streets where their ancestor walked.
“This experience has just been magical,” Brown said.
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