Sandmark House is all about time. There are music boxes to lull the baby to sleep, clocks to wake you up for work and chimes to signal when it’s dinnertime.
“All ages come in and it’s like they’re in a wonderland,” says Storeowner Kerstin Chelius, who is celebrating 50 years in the clock business.
Entering the store is like stepping back in time. There are stately grandfather clocks, like the burlwood Howard Miller that estimates near $4,000, and other traditional finds, like cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest, nautical clocks and Galileo thermometers. Dozens of whimsical and sentimental devices also line the store shelves, including a carousel horse music box, hand-carved wooden music boxes from Sorrento, Italy and music boxes built in 6-inch-tall ostrich eggs finely decorated like Cinderella’s coach.
Kerstin Chelius, the president of the Sandmark House with some of the business’s Cuckoo Clock offerings.
Demonstrating one of the store’s most imaginative pieces, Chelius removes the hat from a Teddy Bear sitting at the piano and switches it out for another hat.
“It’s magical isn’t it,” she says, showing how the tune changes when you put a new hat on the bear.
Chelius, a native of Sweden, named the store after her maiden name of Sandmark. She started the business in 1966 as a wholesaler in Manhattan, N. Y., selling to department stores and independent gift shops around the country.
Antonio Chacon, the master clockmaker at the Sandmark House repairs a client’s vintage clock.
The first product, which she still markets today, is the Lull-A-Baby Music Box, a small satin pillow wind-up with six music options, including Brahms Lullaby and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Soon after, the business began to import and wholesale German cuckoo clocks.
“That was 50 years ago,” Chelius says. “Things have changed.”
Rent went up and labor shortages at the shipping port made business difficult. So in 1970, Chelius and her husband moved to Jacksonville and she opened the Sandmark House retail store on Jacksonville’s Westside. The business grew and in 1979 she moved to a larger site, its present location on Beach Boulevard.
Chelius has employed three generations of workers. The Ramirez family, a father and son team, followed her from New York to Jacksonville and have worked at Sandmark House for 45 years. While the eldest died last year, his grandson is now working for the store part time.
Animated and lighted music boxes for sale at the Sandmark House.
To adapt to changing markets, Chelius expanded in-house watch and clock repairs, a service that now makes up 40 percent of the business. She hired another father and son team, the Chacons, for that work. They have been with her roughly 26 years.
But some adaptations aren’t as simple as moving from hand crank to battery-operated devices. Hit hard by the economic recession and technology like cell phones and music box apps, destination clock stores like Sandmark House are rare. While Sandmark House does have a website, it doesn’t sell its product online.
Chelius, who is now in her 70s, says she could have retired 20 years ago. But she never tires of engaging and delighting customers and looks forward to coming to work.
“I come into the store with joy in my heart,” Chelius says.
A Haunted House
For some, time on this earth is apparently eternal. Two years ago, a camera crew and a spiritual medium with the WCWJ TV-17 series “Local Haunts” said they found about five ghosts at Sandmark House, including one who referred to himself as Frank.
The show’s producer attributed the ghosts to patrons of a nightclub that was once located across the street. Over the years, a few club-goers who had parked at the Sandmark were struck and killed by cars as they tried to cross Beach Boulevard.
Chelius said she hadn’t witnessed any paranormal activity at the store, but says they’ve had a lot of fun with the ghost stories.
“If something goes missing we say Frank took it,” she quips.