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Times of the Islands Magazine

Congress Jewelers Gives Back to Community Generously Through Involvement and Leadership

Third-generation jeweler Scot Congress and his wife, Melissa, offer consistent quality, value, and craftsmanship, coupled with personalized service at Congress Jewelers - 2075 Periwinkle Way Unit 35, Sanibel. However, what some may not know is that the two are very actively involved in community service and aiding nonprofit organizations.

"The list is long because we believe in our community and enjoy giving back whenever possible," Congress said.

Melissa is a long-time board member at the Community Foundation of the Islands. She was a past chairperson at CROW and long-term board member at BIG Arts and The Community House.

"I cannot think of a nonprofit on the island that we have not served or supported," Congress said. "Melissa started her career at the Junior League of Fort Myers and Edison Community College Trust board—and so much devotion in many positions over the years raising our four kids. She spent a lot of time with the Sanibel School PTA and the Fort Myers High School Academic Booster Club."

Her greatest involvement, however, has been her 21-year commitment with the Golisano Children’s Hospital/Sanibel-Captiva Cares, of which she was a founding member. Congress reports the organization has raised more than $16 million to date.

Meanwhile, Congress is a 35-year Rotarian on the island—serving as president two times. Today, he sits on the board of directors at BIG Arts and is a chair on the board of directors at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.

He has served on several industry-related boards, as well—most recently, the Jewelers of America, which serves more than 5,000 jewelry vendors and retailers around the United States and Canada. He also chaired the Political Action Committee during the discovery of the Conflict Diamond Era in the mid-2000s.

"I am proud of my work to get legislation put in place, making the Kimberly Report mandatory to ensure a confident and clean supply chain for all diamonds entering the US," Congress said.

The Congress's moved to Sanibel from Peoria, Ill., in 1981. Hailing from the midwest states of Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, Congress's parents, and grandparents were all in the jewelry business since the 1930s. When the family moved to Southwest Florida, Congress's father, Larry, wanted a break from the family trade, so he bought into a partnership that rented out bicycles and boats to vacationers at Casa Ybel Resort seven days a week, which was the very beginning of interval ownership on the island.

"My dad was continually asked by his patrons at the bike and boat shop on the beach how he found paradise," Congress said. "Simultaneously, my mom, Dee, fell in love with shelling and had a favorite: the Olive Shell. One day she asked my dad to replicate her finest olive shell—she had hundreds—into gold. The rest is history. We created the Birthshells in my parents' memory. The Birthshells are the most popular item at the store.

"March was my mother’s birthday and we celebrate her birth month annually by making the original Olive Shell she found as the March Birthshell! I wish that everyone could have met my parents! They are the founders of Congress Jewelers. Every day, Melissa and I do our best to share some of their wisdom and appreciation of these beautiful islands with anyone we meet. My parents always remembered their roots and never forgot the challenges they had to overcome every day to stay here and enjoy the spectacular surroundings of Sanibel Island."

Congress said it's easy to stay motivated to work on Sanibel because it's not working at all. Their business, he said, is all about sharing happiness.

"We are so fortunate to be in a business that celebrates milestones, and in today’s times, simply surviving!" he continued. "We so much enjoy giving anyone a reason to book their return trip—maybe even retire here! That is the best."

Many times, Congress said, he sells a piece of estate jewelry that was sold by his parents 30 years earlier. The economics of illustrating enduring value to clients by successfully selling an heirloom piece is the greatest compliment to Congress.

"Folks are always surprised, and at the same time pleased, by being reassured that the value is real," Congress said. "It’s always a better decision to shop value over price and proving that builds a legacy that will be around for future generations."

In addition to its exclusive designer jewelry pieces, Congress Jewelers offers its trademark SeaLife By Congress™ Collection, featuring unique creations inspired by the beauty of the islands. Each piece in the collection is entirely designed and handcrafted on the island by Congress's in-house artisans, according to its website, providing its owner a lifelong memory of their time on Sanibel and Captiva.

"I love it all," Congress said of his merchandise. "My father’s experience in the business transgressed to us as merchandisers. 'Stock what you like, not what is popular.' If you love what you sell, you will naturally believe in the product. He once told me that it took him 50 years to learn that lesson."

Typically, the shop offers several special events, inviting world-renowned designers like Roberto Coin to display their pieces in-shop. However, the global pandemic has caused Congress Jewelers to keep foot traffic to a minimum. The store is open daily during regular hours, but working by appointment only for special items this season. 

Despite the circumstances, Congress said the depth of the shop's inventory has never been more exciting, carrying special and rare gemstones in every size, including a $2 million collection of rare, natural color diamonds in colors from natural colorless to red, yellow, blue, and even pink, all coming from the recently closed Argyle Mine. Pink diamonds can sell for as much as $1 million per carat.

Congress is also carrying a vast selection of Spanish treasure coins from the Atocha Shipwreck. The SeaLife by Congress collection has grown to more than 1,000 pieces.

The shop is offering free masks and cleaning stations to mitigate risk amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, every piece of jewelry is carefully cleaned before repair intake.

"Thankfully we have come up with creative ways to work with social media and it even opened up an opportunity for us to leverage our website and online sales," Congress said. "This fluid event has driven home the requirement to be creative in business. Thankfully we are viable! As families have grown closer, our celebrations have become even more important."